RNA-Seq reveals changes in human placental metabolism, transport and endocrinology across the first-second trimester transition.
The human placenta is exposed to major environmental changes towards the end of the first trimester associated with full onset of the maternal arterial placental circulation. Changes include a switch from histotrophic to hemotrophic nutrition, and a threefold rise in the intraplacental oxygen concentration. We evaluated their impact on trophoblast development and function using RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) and DNA-methylation analyses performed on the same chorionic villous samples at 7-8 (n=8) and 13-14 (n=6) weeks of gestation. Reads were adjusted for fetal sex. Most DEGs were associated with protein processing in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), hormone secretion, transport, extracellular matrix, vasculogenesis, and reactive oxygen species metabolism. Transcripts higher in the first trimester were associated with synthesis and ER processing of peptide hormones, and glycolytic pathways. Transcripts encoding proteins mediating transport of oxygen, lipids, protein, glucose, and ions were significantly increased in the second trimester. The motifs of CBX3 and BCL6 were significantly overrepresented, indicating the involvement of these transcription factor networks in the regulation of trophoblast migration, proliferation and fusion. These findings are consistent with a high level of cell proliferation and hormone secretion by the early placenta to secure implantation in a physiological low-oxygen environment.