The placenta is metabolically active and supports the growth of the fetus. We hypothesize that deficits in the capacity of the placenta to maintain bioenergetic and metabolic stability during pregnancy may result in spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB). To explore this hypothesis, we performed a nested cased control study of metabolomic signatures in placentas from women with SPTB (<36 weeks gestation) compared to normal pregnancies (≥38 weeks gestation). To control for the effects of gestational age on placenta metabolism, we also studied a subset of metabolites in non-laboring preterm and term Rhesus monkeys. Comprehensive quantification of metabolites demonstrated a significant elevation in the levels of amino acids, prostaglandins, sphingolipids, lysolipids, and acylcarnitines in SPTB placenta compared to term placenta. Additional quantification of placental acylcarnitines by tandem mass spectrometry confirmed the significant elevation in SPTB human, with no significant differences between midgestation and term placenta in Rhesus macaque. Fatty acid oxidation as measured by the flux of 3H-palmitate in SPTB placenta was lower than term. Collectively, significant and biologically relevant alterations in the placenta metabolome were identified in SPTB placenta. Altered acylcarnitine levels and fatty acid oxidation suggest that disruption in normal substrate metabolism is associated with SPTB.
Keywords: acylcarnitines; fatty acids; metabolism; placenta; spontaneous preterm birth.