Placental oleic acid uptake is lower in male offspring of obese women

Placenta. 2013 Jun;34(6):503-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2013.03.009. Epub 2013 Apr 17.


Introduction: The fetus is dependent on the placenta for its supply of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), which are essential in fetal growth and development. Previous work suggests that high maternal body mass index (BMI) inhibits fetal LCPUFA delivery and males have greater fatty acid requirements than females during development. We hypothesized that male placental fatty acid uptake would be more sensitive to maternal BMI compared to females.

Methods: Term placental samples were collected from healthy women receiving Cesarean section (n = 38). Placental fatty acid transporter and binding protein gene expression and uptake of oleic acid (OA), arachidonic acid, (AA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) were measured. Two-way ANOVA was used to assess the effects of fetal sex and maternal overweight/obesity (BMI >26 kg/m2).

Results: Placental fatty acid uptake of OA was 43% lower in male offspring and 73% higher in female offspring of obese compared to normal BMI women (P < 0.05). The interaction between fetal sex and maternal BMI had a significant effect on both OA (P = 0.002) and AA uptake (P = 0.01). DHA uptake was not affected by fetal sex or maternal obesity. Placental fatty acid transporter CD36 and binding protein FABP5 gene expression levels were lower in male offspring of obese mothers but were not affected by BMI among females.

Conclusion: Maternal obesity and fetal sex significantly affect the placental uptake of oleate and arachidonate. Placental fatty acid uptake in both male and female fetuses is sensitive to maternal BMI, but males may have inadequate acquisition of the unsaturated fatty acid OA, when exposed to maternal obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • CD36 Antigens / genetics
  • Cesarean Section
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Oleic Acid / metabolism*
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Sex Factors


  • CD36 Antigens
  • FABP5 protein, human
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Oleic Acid