Materno-fetal Cholesterol Transport During Pregnancy

Biochem Soc Trans. 2020 Jun 30;48(3):775-786. doi: 10.1042/BST20190129.


Cholesterol is a major nutrient required for fetal growth. It is also a precursor for the synthesis of steroid hormones and essential for the development and maturation of fetal organs. During pregnancy, the placenta controls the transport of cholesterol from the mother to the fetus and vice versa. Cholesterol originating from the maternal circulation has to cross two main membrane barriers to reach the fetal circulation: Firstly, cholesterol is acquired by the apical side of the syncytiotrophoblast (STB) from the maternal circulation as high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)- or very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)-cholesterol and secreted at the basal side facing the villous stroma. Secondly, from the villous stroma cholesterol is taken up by the endothelium of the fetal vasculature and transported to the fetal vessels. The proteins involved in the uptake of HDL-, LDL-, VLDL- or unesterified-cholesterol are scavenger receptor type B class 1 (SR-B1), cubulin, megalin, LDL receptor (LDLR) or Niemann-Pick-C1 (NPC1) which are localized at the apical and/or basal side of the STB or at the fetal endothelium. Through interaction with apolipoproteins (e.g. apoA1) cholesterol is effluxed either to the maternal or fetal circulation via the ATP-binding-cassette (ABC)-transporter A1 and ABCG1 localized at the apical/basal side of the STB or the endothelium. In this mini-review, we summarize the transport mechanisms of cholesterol across the human placenta, the expression and localization of proteins involved in the uptake and efflux of cholesterol, and the expression pattern of cholesterol transport proteins in pregnancy pathologies such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus and intrauterine growth retardation.

Keywords: ABC transport proteins; cholesterol; placenta; pregnancy.