Being born small for gestational age (SGA) confers significantly increased risks of perinatal morbidity and mortality. Accumulating evidence suggests that an SGA fetus results from a poorly perfused and abnormally developed placenta. Some of the placental features seen in SGA, such as abnormal cell turnover and impaired nutrient transport, can be reproduced by culture of placental explants in hypoxic conditions. Metabolic footprinting offers a hypothesis-generating strategy to investigate factors absorbed by and released from this tissue in vitro. Previously, metabolic footprinting of the conditioned culture media has identified differences in placental explants cultured under normoxic and hypoxic conditions and between normal pregnancies and those complicated by pre-eclampsia. In this study we aimed to examine the differences in the metabolic footprint of placental villous explants cultured at different oxygen (O(2)) tensions between women who deliver an SGA baby (n = 9) and those from normal controls (n = 8). Placental villous explants from cases and controls were cultured for 96 h in 1% (hypoxic), 6% (normoxic) and 20% (hyperoxic) O(2). Metabolic footprints were analysed by Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography coupled to an electrospray hybrid LTQ-Orbitrap Mass Spectrometry (UPLC-MS). 574 metabolite features showed significant difference between SGA and normal at one or more of the oxygen tensions. SGA explant media cultured under hypoxic conditions was observed, on a univariate level, to exhibit the same metabolic signature as controls cultured under normoxic conditions in 49% of the metabolites of interest, suggesting that SGA tissue is acclimatised to hypoxic conditions in vivo. No such behaviour was observed under hyperoxic culture conditions. Glycerophospholipid and tryptophan metabolism were highlighted as areas of particular interest.
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