Identification of placental nutrient transporters associated with intrauterine growth restriction and pre-eclampsia

BMC Genomics. 2018 Mar 2;19(1):173. doi: 10.1186/s12864-018-4518-z.


Background: Gestational disorders such as intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and pre-eclampsia (PE) are main causes of poor perinatal outcomes worldwide. Both diseases are related with impaired materno-fetal nutrient transfer, but the crucial transport mechanisms underlying IUGR and PE are not fully elucidated. In this study, we aimed to identify membrane transporters highly associated with transplacental nutrient deficiencies in IUGR/PE.

Results: In silico analyses on the identification of differentially expressed nutrient transporters were conducted using seven eligible microarray datasets (from Gene Expression Omnibus), encompassing control and IUGR/PE placental samples. Thereby 46 out of 434 genes were identified as potentially interesting targets. They are involved in the fetal provision with amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and microelements. Targets of interest were clustered into a substrate-specific interaction network by using Search Tool for the Retrieval of Interacting Genes. The subsequent wet-lab validation was performed using quantitative RT-PCR on placentas from clinically well-characterized IUGR/PE patients (IUGR, n = 8; PE, n = 5; PE+IUGR, n = 10) and controls (term, n = 13; preterm, n = 7), followed by 2D-hierarchical heatmap generation. Statistical evaluation using Kruskal-Wallis tests was then applied to detect significantly different expression patterns, while scatter plot analysis indicated which transporters were predominantly influenced by IUGR or PE, or equally affected by both diseases. Identified by both methods, three overlapping targets, SLC7A7, SLC38A5 (amino acid transporters), and ABCA1 (cholesterol transporter), were further investigated at the protein level by western blotting. Protein analyses in total placental tissue lysates and membrane fractions isolated from disease and control placentas indicated an altered functional activity of those three nutrient transporters in IUGR/PE.

Conclusions: Combining bioinformatic analysis, molecular biological experiments and mathematical diagramming, this study has demonstrated systematic alterations of nutrient transporter expressions in IUGR/PE. Among 46 initially targeted transporters, three significantly regulated genes were further investigated based on the severity and the disease specificity for IUGR and PE. Confirmed by mRNA and protein expression, the amino acid transporters SLC7A7 and SLC38A5 showed marked differences between controls and IUGR/PE and were regulated by both diseases. In contrast, ABCA1 may play an exclusive role in the development of PE.

Keywords: Bioinformatics; Intrauterine growth restriction; Membrane transporters; Placenta; Pre-eclampsia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1 / genetics
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1 / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Amino Acid Transport System y+L
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral / genetics
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / genetics
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / metabolism
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / pathology*
  • Fusion Regulatory Protein 1, Light Chains / genetics
  • Fusion Regulatory Protein 1, Light Chains / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / genetics
  • Pre-Eclampsia / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult


  • ABCA1 protein, human
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1
  • Amino Acid Transport System y+L
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral
  • Fusion Regulatory Protein 1, Light Chains
  • SLC38A5 protein, human
  • SLC7A7 protein, human