Maternal obesity and gestational diabetes (GDM) are conditions associated with fetal overgrowth and excessive fat accumulation in the fetus, implicating an increased placental nutrient transfer in these pregnancies. Obese and GDM mothers have altered metabolism and hormone levels, including elevation of maternal circulatory lipids and pro-inflammatory cytokines. We tested the hypothesis that interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α stimulate placental fatty acid transport, as these pro-inflammatory cytokines have been shown to affect lipid metabolism in other tissues. In cultured primary human trophoblast cells IL-6, but not TNF-α, stimulated fatty acid accumulation, as measured by BODIPY fluorescence. The increased fatty acid accumulation could not be explained by an increased expression of key components in placental fatty acid transport, such as adipophilin, fatty acid transport protein (FATP)1, FATP4, or lipoprotein lipase. In a cohort of lean and overweight/obese pregnant women, increasing maternal third trimester IL-6 plasma concentrations correlated with decreasing placental lipoprotein lipase activity. However, as no effect on lipoprotein lipase activity was observed in cultured trophoblast cells after exposure to either IL-6 or TNF-α, the correlation between maternal circulatory IL-6 levels and placental lipoprotein lipase activity at term is unlikely to represent a cause-and-effect relationship. In conclusion, high levels of IL-6 stimulate trophoblast fatty acid accumulation, which could contribute to an excessive nutrient transfer in conditions associated with elevated maternal IL-6 such as obesity and gestational diabetes.
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