Human placental transcriptome shows sexually dimorphic gene expression and responsiveness to maternal dietary n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intervention during pregnancy

BMC Genomics. 2014 Oct 27;15(1):941. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-15-941.


Background: Previously we have examined the effect of maternal dietary n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) supplementation during pregnancy on offspring fat mass. Considering the involvement of the placenta in fetal programming, we aimed to analyze the sex-specific gene expression in human term placenta and its response to the n-3 LCPUFA intervention, as well as their correlations to offspring adiposity.

Results: Placental gene expression was assessed in a control and n-3 LCPUFA intervention group by DNA microarrays, biological pathway analyses and RT-qPCR validation. Expression data were correlated with sex steroid hormone levels in placenta and cord plasma, and offspring anthropometric data. Transcriptome data revealed sexually dimorphic gene expression in control placentas per se, whereas in intervention placentas sex-specific expression changed, and more n-3 LCPUFA-regulated genes were found in female than male placentas. Sexually dimorphic gene expression and n-3 LCPUFA-responsive genes were enriched in the pathway for cell cycle and its associated modulator pathways. Significant mRNA expression changes for CDK6, PCNA, and TGFB1 were confirmed by RT-qPCR. CDK6 and PCNA mRNA levels correlated with offspring birth weight and birth weight percentiles. Significantly reduced placental estradiol-17β/testosterone ratio upon intervention found in female offspring correlated with mRNA levels for the 'Wnt signaling' genes DVL1 and LRP6.

Conclusions: Overall, human placentas show sexually dimorphic gene expression and responsiveness to maternal n-3 LCPUFA intervention during pregnancy with more pronounced effects in female placentas. The absence of correlations of analyzed placental gene expression with offspring adipose tissue growth in the first year is not mutually exclusive with programming effects, which may manifest later in life, or in other physiological processes.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Cell Cycle
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones