Wingless ligands, a family of secreted proteins, are critically involved in organ development and tissue homeostasis by ensuring balanced rates of stem cell proliferation, cell death and differentiation. Wnt signaling components also play crucial roles in murine placental development controlling trophoblast lineage determination, chorioallantoic fusion and placental branching morphogenesis. However, the role of the pathway in human placentation, trophoblast development and differentiation is only partly understood. Here, we summarize our present knowledge about Wnt signaling in the human placenta and discuss its potential role in physiological and aberrant trophoblast invasion, gestational diseases and choriocarcinoma formation. Differentiation of proliferative first trimester cytotrophoblasts into invasive extravillous trophoblasts is associated with nuclear recruitment of β -catenin and induction of Wnt-dependent T-cell factor 4 suggesting that canonical Wnt signaling could be important for the formation and function of extravillous trophoblasts. Indeed, activation of the pathway was shown to promote trophoblast invasion in different in vitro trophoblast model systems as well as trophoblast cell fusion. Methylation-mediated silencing of inhibitors of Wnt signaling provided evidence for epigenetic activation of the pathway in placental tissues and choriocarcinoma cells. Similarly, abundant nuclear expression of β -catenin in invasive trophoblasts of complete hydatidiform moles suggested a role for hyper-activated Wnt signaling. In contrast, upregulation of Wnt inhibitors was noticed in placentae of women with preeclampsia, a disease characterized by shallow trophoblast invasion and incomplete spiral artery remodeling. Moreover, changes in Wnt signaling have been observed upon cytomegalovirus infection and in recurrent abortions. In summary, the current literature suggests a critical role of Wnt signaling in physiological and abnormal trophoblast function.
Placental trophoblasts form the interface between the fetal and maternal environments and serve to limit the maternal-fetal spread of viruses. Here we show that cultured primary human placental trophoblasts are highly resistant to infection by a number of viruses and, importantly, confer this resistance to nonplacental recipient cells by exosome-mediated delivery of specific micro-RNAs (miRNAs). We show that miRNA members of the chromosome 19 miRNA cluster, which are almost exclusively expressed in the human placenta, are packaged within trophoblast-derived exosomes and attenuate viral replication in recipient cells by the induction of autophagy. Together, our findings identify an unprecedented paracrine and/or systemic function of placental trophoblasts that uses exosome-mediated transfer of a unique set of placental-specific effector miRNAs to directly communicate with placental or maternal target cells and regulate their immunity to viral infections.
The placenta is a transient organ that forms during pregnancy to support the growth and development of the fetus. During human placental development, trophoblast cells differentiate through two major pathways. In the villous pathway, cytotrophoblast cells fuse to form multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast. In the extravillous pathway, cytotrophoblast cells acquire an invasive phenotype and differentiate into either (1) interstitial extravillous trophoblasts, which invade the decidua and a portion of the myometrium, or (2) endovascular extravillous trophoblasts, which remodel the maternal vasculature. These differentiation events are tightly controlled by the interplay of oxygen tension, transcription factors, hormones, growth factors, and other signaling molecules. More recently, microRNAs have been implicated in this regulatory process. Abnormal placental development, particularly the limited invasion of trophoblast cells into the uterus and the subsequent failure of the remodeling of maternal spiral arteries, is believed to cause preeclampsia, a severe pregnancy related disorder characterized by hypertension and proteinuria. Oxidative stress, the abnormal production and/or function of signaling molecules, as well as aberrant microRNAs expression have been suggested to participate in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia. Several potential biomarkers for preeclampsia have been identified, creating new opportunities for the development of strategies to diagnose, prevent, and treat this disorder.
Abstract During pregnancy, the extravillous trophoblast (EVT) invades the maternal decidua and remodels spiral arteries reaching as far as the inner third of the myometrium. This process is mandatory to a successful pregnancy since EVTs regulate spiral artery remodeling to achieve maximal vasodilation and thus an adequate nutrient supply to the embryo or communicate with maternal leukocyte populations to guarantee acceptance of the allogeneic conceptus. To achieve this, EVTs undergo a remarkable and unique differentiation process, which yields different phenotypes such as proliferative cell column trophoblasts or growth-arrested, invasive interstitial or endovascular cytotrophoblasts. Matrix metalloproteinases have long been seen as imperative to trophoblast invasion because of their ability to degrade extracellular matrix and therefore allow cellular movement in foreign tissues. However, global gene expression analysis reveals that EVTs also express various members of distintegrin and metalloproteinases (ADAMs). These proteases are associated with the process of proteolytic shedding and activation of surface proteins including growth factors, cytokines, receptors and their ligands rather than extracellular matrix breakdown. While ADAM12 has been associated with chromosomal abnormalities as well as preeclampsia or intrauterine fetal growth restriction, the function of ADAMs in trophoblasts remains elusive. In this article, we review the diverse invasive trophoblast phenotypes, EVT-associated protease systems and related open questions. In addition, we examine recent information about relevant ADAM members and their putative implications for EVT biology.
Both paracrine and autocrine factors are involved in the regulation of trophoblast invasion. One of these factors is human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which stimulates trophoblast invasion. The stimulatory activity has especially been ascribed to a hyperglycosylated form of hCG (hCG-h) that is expressed in early pregnancy. We compared the stimulatory activities of different forms of hCG and its free β-subunit (hCGβ) on trophoblast invasion. hCG, hCG-h, hCGβ, and its hyperglycosylated form (hCGβ-h) stimulated the invasion of JEG-3 choriocarcinoma cells. The stimulatory effect of hCGβ was also confirmed with primary human trophoblasts. Down-regulation of the LH/hCG receptor by RNA-interference did not significantly reduce the effect of hCGβ and hCG on cell invasion. Increased invasion was associated with increased levels of MMP-2, MMP-9 and activity of uPA. Our findings suggest that hCG, hCGβ and their hyperglycosylated forms stimulate the invasion of trophoblast cells independent of the classical LH/hCG-receptor.
Extravillous trophoblasts (EVTs) characterize the invasion of the maternal decidua under low oxygen and poor nutrition at the early feto-maternal interface to establish a successful pregnancy. We previously reported that autophagy in EVTs was activated under 2% O-2 in vitro, and autophagy activation was also observed in EVTs at the early feto-maternal interface in vivo. Here, we show that autophagy is an energy source for the invasion of EVTs. Cobalt chloride (CoCl2), which induces hypoxia inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF1 alpha) overexpression, activated autophagy in HTR8/SVneo cells, an EVT cell line. The number of invading HTR8-ATG4B(C74A) cells, an autophagy-deficient EVT cell line, was markedly reduced by 81 percent with the CoCl2 treatment through the suppression of MMP9 level, although CoCl2 did not affect the cellular invasion of HTR8-mStrawberry cells, a control cell line. HTR8-ATG4B(C74A) cells treated with CoCl2 showed a decrease in cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels and a compensatory increase in the expression of purinergic receptor P2X ligand-gated ion channel 7 (P2RX7), which is stimulated with ATP, whereas HTR8- mStrawberry cells maintained cellular ATP levels and did not affect P2RX7 expression. Furthermore, the decreased invasiveness of HTR8-ATG4B(C74A) cells treated with CoCl2 was neutralized by ATP supplementation to the level of HTR8-ATG4B(C74A) cells treated without CoCl2. These results suggest that autophagy plays a role in maintaining homeostasis by countervailing HIF1 alpha-mediated cellular energy consumption in EVTs.
Abstract Invasion of extravillous trophoblast into maternal tissues has a profound effect on the oxygenation of the placenta and hence the fetus. The main route of trophoblast invasion is interstitial invasion into the tissues of the decidua and myometrium. From this main route side branches reach the spiral arteries (endovascular trophoblast) as well as the uterine glands (endoglandular trophoblast) to open both structures toward the intervillous space. This enables histiotrophic nutrition in the first trimester and hemotrophic nutrition in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Failure of endovascular trophoblast invasion has profound effects on the oxygenation of the placenta. Interestingly, this does not lead to hypoxia as has long been presumed. Rather, all measurements available today point to increased oxygen levels within the placenta in patients with a failure of spiral artery transformation. This should lead to a rethink regarding pathological conditions such as intrauterine growth restriction and preeclampsia.
Abstract MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate the expression of a large number of genes in plants and animals. Placental miRNAs appeared late in evolution and can be found only in mammals. Nevertheless, these miRNAs are constantly under evolutionary pressure. As a consequence, miRNA sequences and their mRNA targets may differ between species, and some miRNAs can only be found in humans. Their expression can be tissue- or cell-specific and can vary time-dependently. Human placenta tissue exhibits a specific miRNA expression pattern that dynamically changes during pregnancy and is reflected in the maternal plasma. Some placental miRNAs are involved in or associated with major pregnancy disorders, such as preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction or preterm delivery and, therefore, have a strong potential for usage as sensitive and specific biomarkers. In this review we summarize current knowledge on the origin of placental miRNAs, their expression in humans with special regard to trophoblast cells, interspecies differences, and their future as biomarkers. It can be concluded that animal models for human reproduction have a different panel of miRNAs and targets, and can only partly reflect or predict the situation in humans.
Human ES cells (hESC) exposed to bone morphogenic protein 4 (BMP4) in the absence of FGF2 have become widely used for studying trophoblast development, but the soundness of this model has been challenged by others, who concluded that differentiation was primarily toward mesoderm rather than trophoblast. Here we confirm that hESC grown under the standard conditions on a medium conditioned by mouse embryonic fibroblasts in the presence of BMP4 and absence of FGF2 on a Matrigel substratum rapidly convert to an epithelium that is largely KRT7(+) within 48 h, with minimal expression of mesoderm markers, including T (Brachyury). Instead, they begin to express a series of trophoblast markers, including HLA-G, demonstrate invasive properties that are independent of the continued presence of BMP4 in the medium, and, over time, produce extensive amounts of human chorionic gonadotropin, progesterone, placental growth factor, and placental lactogen. This process of differentiation is not dependent on conditioning of the medium by mouse embryonic fibroblasts and is accelerated in the presence of inhibitors of Activin and FGF2 signaling, which at day 2 provide colonies that are entirely KRT7(+) and in which the majority of cells are transiently CDX2(+). Colonies grown on two chemically defined media, including the one in which BMP4 was reported to drive mesoderm formation, also differentiate at least partially to trophoblast in response to BMP4. The experiments demonstrate that the in vitro BMP4/hESC model is valid for studying the emergence and differentiation of trophoblasts.