We have identified recently a new peptide, NT-proCNP(1–50) (N-terminal pro-C-type natriuretic peptide), in the circulation of humans and sheep. A previous report of an elevated fetal–maternal gradient in immunoreactive CNP raised the possibility that processing and metabolism of proCNP may differ in maternal and fetal tissues. We therefore collected matching peripheral maternal and umbilical cord plasma samples at delivery from women with normotensive and pre-eclamptic pregnancies to investigate the presence and concentrations of CNP and NT-proCNP using HPLC and RIA. Plasma concentrations of NT-proCNP in normotensive umbilical cord plasma were 10-fold higher than maternal venous levels (246±17 compared with 24.3±1.8 pmol/l; P<0.001) and much higher than corresponding levels of CNP (3.6±0.4 compared with 1.8±0.3 pmol/l in the fetal and maternal plasma respectively; P<0.001). Although there was no significant difference between normotensive and pre-eclamptic plasma CNP concentrations in either maternal or umbilical cord blood, NT-proCNP showed a significant statistical interaction (F=5.8, P=0.025) between the source (maternal or fetal) and gestational group (normotensive or pre-eclamptic). Maternal NT-proCNP levels were raised in the pre-eclampsia group, whereas the converse was observed in umbilical cord blood. In conclusion, the greatly elevated ratio of NT-proCNP/CNP in fetal compared with maternal plasma suggests that synthesis, as well as clearance, of CNP (but not NT-proCNP clearance) are markedly increased in fetal tissues.

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