Maternal obesity up-regulates inflammatory signaling pathways and enhances cytokine expression in the mid-gestation sheep placenta

Placenta. 2010 May;31(5):387-91. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2010.02.002. Epub 2010 Feb 24.


Obesity in pregnant women is a growing public health concern. The placenta is a source of cytokines which can induce maternal gestational insulin resistance and alter nutrient transport to the fetus. Obesity induces placental inflammation at term, but the impact of obesity on placental inflammation earlier in pregnancy has not been defined. Using sheep as an experimental model, we hypothesized that maternal obesity (MO) would induce inflammation in the cotyledonary (COT) tissue of the placentome by mid-gestation. Nonpregnant ewes were randomly assigned to a control (C, 100% of NRC recommendations) or obese (OB, 150% of NRC) group from 60 days before conception to 75 day of gestation (dG), when ewes were necropsied and placental COT tissue collected for analyses. Free fatty acids content, triglyceride and cholesterol content were higher (P < 0.05) in the fetal plasma of OB compared to C ewes on day 75. MO increased mRNA levels of toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 (P < 0.05) and TLR4 (P = 0.06), macrophage markers cluster of differentiation (CD)11b (P = 0.06), CD14 and CD68 (P < 0.05), and proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor (TNF)alpha (P < 0.01), interleukin (IL)-6 (P < 0.05), IL-8(P < 0.01) and IL-18 (P = 0.06), in COT tissue. Inflammatory c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK)/c-Jun and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-kappaB) signaling pathways were up-regulated (P < 0.05) in COT of OB ewes. In conclusion, MO enhanced the placental inflammatory response in OB ewes at mid-gestation, possibly as a result of increased TLR4 and free fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gestational Age
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placenta / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sheep / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / genetics
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation


  • Antigens, CD
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Toll-Like Receptors