Mid- to late term hypoxia in the mouse alters placental morphology, glucocorticoid regulatory pathways and nutrient transporters in a sex-specific manner

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Abstract

Maternal hypoxia is a common perturbation that can disrupt placental and thus fetal development, contributing to neonatal impairments. Recently, evidence has suggested that physiological outcomes are dependent upon the sex of the fetus, with males more susceptible to hypoxic insults than females. This study investigated the effects of maternal hypoxia during mid- to late gestation on fetal growth and placental development and determined if responses were sex specific. CD1 mice were housed under 21% or 12% oxygen from embryonic day (E) 14.5 until tissue collection at E18.5. Fetuses and placentas were weighed before collection for gene and protein expression and morphological analysis. Hypoxia reduced fetal weight in both sexes at E18.5 by 7% but did not affect placental weight. Hypoxia reduced placental mRNA levels of the mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors and reduced the gene and protein expression of the glucocorticoid metabolizing enzyme HSD11B2. However, placentas of female fetuses responded differently to maternal hypoxia than did placentas of male fetuses. Notably, morphology was significantly altered in placentas from hypoxic female fetuses, with a reduction in placental labyrinth blood spaces. In addition mRNA expression of Glut1, Igf2 and Igf1r were reduced in placentas of female fetuses only. In summary, maternal hypoxia altered placental formation in a sex specific manner through mechanisms involving placental vascular development, growth factor and nutrient transporter expression and placental glucocorticoid signalling. This study provides insight into how sex differences in offspring disease development may be due to sex specific placental adaptations to maternal insults.

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