Abstract

STUDY QUESTION

Are hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF) responsible for the potentiation of inhibin alpha subunit (INHA) gene expression in primary cultures of human term cytotrophoblasts under low-oxygen tension?

SUMMARY ANSWER

Both HIF1A and endothelial PAS domain protein 1 (EPAS1) are involved in the potentiation of INHA gene upregulation in cytotrophoblasts cultured under hypoxia.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY

During the in vitro differentiation of cytotrophoblasts into syncytiotrophoblasts under 21% O2, INHA expression increases. This expression is further increased when cells are cultured under low-oxygen tension (e.g. 2.5% O2). Moreover, in pregnancy-related diseases, such as pre-eclampsia or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), in which hypoxia is suspected to be responsible for the abnormal placental development, maternal serum concentration of inhibin A is elevated.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION

Cytotrophoblasts were isolated and purified from human term placentas (n = 6). Cells were cultured under 21% O2, and allowed to differentiate for 48 h. A first group of cells was treated for 16 h under 21% O2 with dimethyloxalylglycine (DMOG) or deferoxamine (DFX), molecules that mimic hypoxia by inhibiting HIF1 proteasomal degradation. Involvement of HIF1A and EPAS1 (also known as HIF2A), two HIF isoforms expressed in trophoblasts, was shown by treating another group of cells cultured under 2.5% O2 with specific inhibitors of HIF1A and EPAS1 for 16 h. INHA mRNA expression was assessed by real-time PCR and secreted inhibin A was quantified by ELISA. The role of HIF1A and EPAS1 in INHA transcriptional regulation was further confirmed by cotransfecting primary cytotrophoblasts with a luciferase reporter plasmid containing a 3.9 kb INHA promoter and plasmids allowing overexpression of HIF1A and EPAS1.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS

Placentas were obtained after vaginal or elective cesarean delivery from uncomplicated pregnancies at term (n≥ 4). The methods used were hormone measurements in the cell supernatants by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, real-time quantitative PCR, western blotting, immunofluorescence microscopy and transient transfection.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE

HIF1 protein stabilization with DMOG and DFX increased 21% O2-induced INHA mRNA and protein upregulation (P < 0.05 versus control), while hypoxia-induced INHA upregulation was repressed by HIF1A and EPAS1 inhibitors (P < 0.05 versus control). In transfection experiments of primary term cytotrophoblasts, cloned INHA promoter transcriptional activity was increased by 2.5% O2 compared to 21% O2 (P < 0.05). Overexpression of both HIF1A and EPAS1 under 21% O2 increased cloned INHA transcriptional activity (P < 0.001 versus control).

LARGE SCALE DATA

Not applicable.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION

HIF1A and EPAS1 may regulate INHA expression by binding to an hypoxia-responsive element within the promoter, but we were unable to identify such an element. Inhibition of HIF1A and EPAS1 did not completely suppress upregulation of INHA expression suggesting that other transcription factors, not identified or studied here, are involved.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS

Our data suggest that the effect of HIF1 proteins on INHA gene promoter activity may be indirect. By demonstrating the role of HIF1A and especially EPAS1 in INHA gene upregulation under hypoxia, the results suggest that HIF1 proteins may become new therapeutic targets in the treatment of pregnancy-related diseases such as pre-eclampsia or IUGR.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)

This work was fully supported by ‘Fetus for Life’ charity. C. Depoix was supported by a fellowship ‘Fonds de Recherche Clinique’ from ‘Fondation Saint-Luc’, Belgium. The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

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