We have shown that serum levels of a molecule immunochemically similar to eosinophil granule major basic protein (MBP) are elevated in pregnant women throughout gestation. MBP levels increase during gestation and plateau at approximately 7,500 ng/ml by the 20th wk (greater than 10-fold above normal). Levels return to normal after delivery, with a T1/2 of 13.7 d. The MBP in pregnancy serum is remarkably similar to the eosinophil granule MBP in that: (a) pregnancy MBP fully inhibits the binding of radiolabeled MBP standard in a double antibody radioimmunoassay; (b) this inhibition reaction is specific for human MBP because pregnancy serum produces no inhibition of the binding of radiolabeled guinea pig MBP in the guinea pig MBP radioimmunoassay; (c) in a two-site immunoradiometric assay for MBP, slopes of dose-response curves for pregnancy serum, purified MBP, and serum from a patient with hypereosinophilic syndrome are identical, and maximal binding is comparable; (d) reduction and alkylation of pregnancy sera increases measured MBP 100-fold, as previously shown for eosinophil granule MBP in serum; and (e) the MBP in pregnancy serum demonstrates the same pattern of heat lability as has been previously reported for MBP. Four observations have raised the possibility that the eosinophil is not the source of the MBP in pregnancy serum: (a) no correlation between serum MBP level and peripheral blood eosinophil count exists in pregnant women, in contrast to previous studies of patients with eosinophilia; (b) levels of three other eosinophil-associated proteins are normal or low in pregnancy sera, whereas the serum levels of these proteins are elevated in patients with eosinophilia; (c) the slopes of dose-response curves for pregnancy sera and MBP standards differ in the double antibody radioimmunoassay; and (d) the molecule in pregnancy serum elutes from Sephadex G-50 columns at the void volume, while eosinophil granule MBP and the MBP in serum of patients with eosinophilia elute at a volume consistent with the previously established molecular weight of 9,300. These findings suggest that the MBP in pregnancy serum is derived from a source other than the eosinophil.

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