Maternal and Intrauterine Influences on Feto-Placental Growth Are Accompanied by Sexually Dimorphic Changes in Placental Mitochondrial Respiration, and Metabolic Signalling Pathways.
Adverse maternal environments such as small size, malnutrition, and metabolic conditions are known to influence fetal growth outcomes. Similarly, fetal growth and metabolic alterations may alter the intrauterine environment and affect all fetuses in multiple gestation/litter-bearing species. The placenta is the site of convergence between signals derived from the mother and the developing fetus/es. Its functions are fuelled by energy generated by mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). The aim of this study was to delineate the role of an altered maternal and/or fetal/intrauterine environment in feto-placental growth and placental mitochondrial energetic capacity. To address this, in mice, we used disruptions of the gene encoding phosphoinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) p110α, a growth and metabolic regulator to perturb the maternal and/or fetal/intrauterine environment and study the impact on wildtype conceptuses. We found that feto-placental growth was modified by a perturbed maternal and intrauterine environment, and effects were most evident for wildtype males compared to females. However, placental mitochondrial complex I+II OXPHOS and total electron transport system (ETS) capacity were similarly reduced for both fetal sexes, yet reserve capacity was additionally decreased in males in response to the maternal and intrauterine perturbations. These were also sex-dependent differences in the placental abundance of mitochondrial-related proteins (e.g., citrate synthase and ETS complexes), and activity of growth/metabolic signalling pathways (AKT and MAPK) with maternal and intrauterine alterations. Our findings thus identify that the mother and the intrauterine environment provided by littermates modulate feto-placental growth, placental bioenergetics, and metabolic signalling in a manner dependent on fetal sex. This may have relevance for understanding the pathways leading to reduced fetal growth, particularly in the context of suboptimal maternal environments and multiple gestation/litter-bearing species.
Medical Research Council (MR/R022690/1)