Placental fatty acid transfer

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Purpose of review

This review outlines recent advances in placental lipid transport in relation to maternal metabolic status and pregnancy outcome. A particular focus of this review will be on the way these findings may influence our understanding of placental transfer of the essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is crucial for fetal neurodevelopment and of lipid transfer as a predisposing factor for childhood obesity.

Recent findings

Placental metabolism may determine the quantity and composition of fatty acids delivered to the fetus. Maternal factors, such as obesity, appear to regulate placental lipid metabolism and may influence fatty acids delivery to the fetus. Although the role of placental metabolism is now recognized, new evidence also suggests important roles for nontraditional fatty acid transporters such as Mfsd2a which facilitates transfer of DHA.


Placental lipid metabolism is likely to be a determinant of placental transfer of fatty acids to the fetus. Maternal conditions, such as obesity, have now been shown to regulate placental lipid metabolism and thus may influence fatty acid transfer and fetal development. However, it is not yet clear how regulation of placental lipid metabolism affects fatty acid delivery to the fetus and its long-term health.

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