Review: Transport of maternal cholesterol to the fetal circulation

Placenta. 2011 Mar;32 Suppl 2(0 2):S218-21. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2011.01.011.


Data obtained from recent studies in humans, rodents, and cell culture demonstrate that circulating maternal cholesterol can be transported to the fetus. The two major cell types responsible for the transport are trophoblasts and endothelial cells of the fetoplacental vasculature. Maternal lipoprotein-cholesterol is initially taken up by trophoblasts via receptor-mediated and receptor-independent processes, is transported by any number of the sterol transport proteins expressed by cells, and is effluxed or secreted out of the basal side via protein-mediated processes or by aqueous diffusion. This cholesterol is then taken up by the endothelium and effluxed to acceptors within the fetal circulation. The ability to manipulate the mass of maternal cholesterol that is taken up by the placenta and crosses to the fetus could positively impact development of fetuses affected with the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS) that have reduced ability to synthesize cholesterol and possibly impact growth of fetuses unaffected by SLOS but with low birthweights.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cholesterol / biosynthesis
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetus / abnormalities
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome / genetics
  • Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome / metabolism
  • Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome / pathology


  • Cholesterol