Adriana and Luisa Castellucci Award lecture 2001. Hypoxia inducible factor-1: oxygen regulation of trophoblast differentiation in normal and pre-eclamptic pregnancies—a review

I Caniggia, J L Winter
Placenta 2002, 23: S47-57
During early pregnancy, trophoblast differentiation occurs in an environment of relative low oxygen tension which is essential for normal embryonic and placental development. At around 10-12 weeks' gestation, when the intervillous space opens to maternal blood, there is an increase in Po(2). This increase correlates with the time of maximal trophoblast invasion into the maternal decidua, which allows extravillous trophoblast cells to access and remodel the maternal spiral arteries. Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1(HIF-1) is a transcription factor which activates gene transcription in response to varying oxygen concentration of cells. HIF-1 is a heterodimer composed of the inducible HIF-1alpha and the constitutively expressed HIF-1beta/ARNT subunits. Using villous explants, we have demonstrated that the oxygen-regulated events of early trophoblast differentiation are in part mediated by TGFbeta(3), an inhibitor of trophoblast differentiation, via HIF-1alpha. Pre-eclampsia is a disease of pregnancy that is characterized by shallow trophoblast invasion. Recently, we have reported that TGFbeta(3) is over-expressed in pre-eclamptic pregnancy and that its down-regulation restores invasive capability to trophoblast cells. Because TGFbeta(3) is downstream of HIF-1alpha, in the present study we investigated the expression of HIF-1alpha in pre-eclamptic placentae and age-matched controls using in situ hybridization and histochemical analyses. We found that HIF-1alpha mRNA and protein expression are abnormally elevated in pre-eclamptic placental tissue when compared to normal placental tissue. We conclude that pre-eclampsia may result from a developmental failure of oxygen to increase or of trophoblast cells to respond and/or sense an increase in oxygen. This will prevent the normal TGFbeta3 down-regulation and will lead to poor trophoblast invasion predisposing the pregnancy to pre-eclampsia.

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