Objective: To assess first trimester placental growth factor (PlGF) and pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) as screening markers for early-onset pre-eclampsia (PE) and intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR). Methods: PlGF concentration was retrospectively measured in first trimester serum specimens of 23 cases of early-onset PE (<34 weeks), 26 cases of IUGR (birth weight < 5th centile) and 5 controls per case. Levels were adjusted for gestational age (GA), ethnicity and smoking to obtain multiples of the expected median (MoM). Logistic regression was used to assess PlGF, PAPP-A and maternal characteristics as potential predictors of early-onset PE and IUGR. Results: PlGF MoM levels were significantly lower in the early-onset PE group (P < 0.0001) compared with controls, but not in the IUGR group. PAPP-A MoM levels were significantly lower in the IUGR group (P < 0.01) compared with controls but not in the early-onset PE group. PlGF significantly improved the ability of systolic blood pressure at the first prenatal visit to predict early-onset PE [achieving a receiver-operating characteristics curve with area under the curve (AUC) of 0.8]. Combining systolic blood pressure at the first prenatal visit and PlGF did not significantly improve the predictive ability compared with PlGF alone (AUC = 0.83). Conclusion: Serum PlGF is an acceptable marker in first trimester screening for early-onset PE, but a poor marker in screening for IUGR. Screening performance of serum PAPP-A is poor for both early-onset PE and IUGR. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.