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In normal pregnancy, hepatic metabolism adaptation occurs with an increase in lipid biosynthesis. Placental shedding of syncytiotrophoblast-derived extracellular vesicles (STBEVs) into the maternal circulation constitutes a major signalling mechanism between foetus and mother. We investigated whether STBEVs from normal pregnant women might target liver cells in vitro and induce changes in lipid synthesis. This study was performed at the Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health, Oxford, UK. STBEVs were obtained by dual-lobe placental perfusion from 11 normal pregnancies at term. Medium/large and small STBEVs were collected by ultracentrifugation at 10,000g and 150,000g, respectively. STBEVs were analysed by Western blot analysis and flow cytometry for co-expression of apolipoprotein-E (apoE) and placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP). The uptake of STBEVs by liver cells and the effect on lipid metabolism was evaluated using a hepatocarcinoma cell line (HepG2 cells). Data were analysed by one-way ANOVA and Student's t test. We demonstrated that: (a) STBEVs carry apoE; (b) HepG2 cells take up STBEVs through an apoE-LDL receptor interaction; (c) STBEV incorporation into HepG2 cells resulted in (i) increased cholesterol release (ELISA); (ii) increased expression of the genes SQLE and FDPS (microarray) involved in cholesterol biosynthesis; (iii) downregulation of the CLOCK gene (microarray and PCR), involved in the circadian negative control of lipid synthesis in liver cells. In conclusion, the placenta may orchestrate the metabolic adaptation of the maternal liver through release of apoE-positive STBEVs, by increasing lipid synthesis in a circadian-independent fashion, meeting the nutritional needs of the growing foetus.

Original publication




Journal article


J Cell Mol Med

Publication Date



apolipoprotein-E, extracellular vesicles, lipid metabolism, liver, placenta, pregnancy