Analysis of the metabolic footprint and tissue metabolome of placental villous explants cultured at different oxygen tensions reveals novel redox biomarkers

Placenta. 2008 Aug;29(8):691-8. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2008.05.002. Epub 2008 Jun 24.


Pre-eclampsia (PE) is a multi-system disorder of pregnancy hypothesised to arise from circulating factors derived from an unhealthy placenta. Some changes in placental phenotype seen in PE can be reproduced by culture in altered oxygen (O2) tension. Currently, these circulating factors are unidentified, partly due to the complexity of maternal plasma. Investigation of factors released from placental tissue provides a potential method to identify bioactive compounds. Experimental strategies to study compounds present in a biological system have expanded greatly in recent years. Metabolomics can detect and identify endogenous and secreted metabolites. We aimed to determine whether metabolites could be identified in placental cultures with acceptable experimental variability and to determine whether altered O2 tension affects the composition of the placental metabolome. In this study we used gas-chromatography-mass spectroscopy to determine the presence of metabolites in conditioned culture medium (CCM) and tissue lysates of placental villous explants cultured in 1, 6 and 20% atmospheric O2 for 96h. This experimental strategy had an intra-assay variation of 6.1-11.6%. Intra and inter-placental variability were 15.7-35.8% and 44.8-46.2% respectively. Metabolic differences were identified between samples cultured in 1, 6 and 20% O2 in both CCM and tissue lysate. Differentially expressed metabolites included: 2-deoxyribose, threitol or erythritol and hexadecanoic acid. We conclude that metabolomic strategies offer a novel approach to investigate placental function. When conducted under carefully controlled conditions, with appropriate statistical analysis, metabolic differences can be identified in placental explants in response to altered O2 tension. Metabolomics could be used to identify changes in conditions associated with placental pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Caproates / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Chorionic Villi / drug effects*
  • Chorionic Villi / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribose / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Oxygen / pharmacology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sugar Alcohols / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Caproates
  • Sugar Alcohols
  • hexanoic acid
  • Deoxyribose
  • threitol
  • Oxygen