Expression of the multidrug resistance P-glycoprotein, (ABCB1 glycoprotein) in the human placenta decreases with advancing gestation

Placenta. 2006 Jun-Jul;27(6-7):602-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2005.05.007. Epub 2005 Sep 6.


The multidrug resistance p-glycoprotein (P-gp), encoded by the ABCB1 gene, is a plasma membrane protein that actively extrudes a wide variety of substances from cells. Preliminary studies in mice have shown that the ABCB1/P-gp can protect the fetus from a number of toxic substances. ABCB1/P-gp is expressed in the human placenta and is potentially capable of protecting the fetus from a large number of drugs and toxins, including herbicides and pesticides. The protein can also extrude various steroids including certain glucocorticoids and may therefore play an important role in regulating fetal access of glucocorticoids. The aim of the present study was to examine the expression profile and cellular localization of ABCB1/P-gp in human placenta throughout gestation. We hypothesized that there would be gestational age-related changes in the expression of the protein. ABCB1/P-gp mRNA was measured by Real-Time PCR using specific probes in tissues obtained from 6 weeks gestation to term. ABCB1/P-gp mRNA levels in placental tissue obtained at 6-10 weeks (n=5) and 24-35 weeks (n=5) were significantly higher than in tissues obtained at term (38-41 weeks gestation) by elective C-section (n=6) or following labor (n=6). The profile of ABCB1/P-gp protein levels, quantified using Western analysis, demonstrated a similar decrease with advancing gestation. At all gestational ages ABCB1/P-gp was localized by immunohistochemistry to the syncytiotrophoblast. In term tissues, it appeared to be localized to some areas of the villi and not others. Together, these data indicate that with advancing gestation there is a decrease in the level of ABCB1/P-gp in the human placenta indicating that the fetus may be more susceptible to toxic insults in the latter part of gestation. Further, the reduction in ABCB1/P-gp expression may contribute to the increased transfer of maternal cortisol to the fetus that is known to occur in late gestation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / genetics
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / physiology
  • Placenta / embryology*
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • RNA, Messenger