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Low maternal circulating concentrations of placental growth factor (PlGF) are one of the hallmarks of human pregnancy complications, including fetal growth restriction (FGR) and early-onset pre-eclampsia (PE). Currently, PlGF is used clinically with other biomarkers to screen for high-risk cases, although the mechanisms underlying its regulation are largely unknown. Placental endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress has recently been found to be elevated in cases of FGR, and to an even greater extent in early-onset PE complicated with FGR. ER stress activates the unfolded protein response (UPR); attenuation of protein translation and a reduction in cell growth and proliferation play crucial roles in the pathophysiology of these complications of pregnancy. In this study, we further identified that ER stress regulates release of PlGF. We first observed that down-regulation of PlGF protein was associated with nuclear localization of ATF4, ATF6α and ATF6β in the syncytiotrophoblast of placentae from PE patients. Transcript analysis showed a decrease ofPlGFmRNA, and an increase from genes encoding those UPR transcription factors in placentae from cases of early-onset PE, but not of late-onset (>34 weeks) PE, compared to term controls. Further investigations indicated a strong correlation betweenATF4andPlGFmRNA levels only (r= − 0.73,p <0.05). These results could be recapitulated in trophoblast-like cells exposed to chemical inducers of ER stress or hypoxia–reoxygenation. The stability ofPlGFtranscripts was unchanged. The use of small interfering RNA specific for transcription factors in the UPR pathways revealed that ATF4 and ATF6β, but not ATF6α, modulatePlGFtranscription. To conclude, ATF4 and ATF6β act synergistically in the negative regulation ofPlGFmRNA expression, resulting in reduced PlGF secretion by the trophoblast in response to stress. Therefore, these results further support the targeting of placental ER stress as a potential new therapeutic intervention for these pregnancy complications. © 2015 The Authors.Journal of Pathologypublished by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.