Pivotal role of the transcriptional co-activator YAP in trophoblast stemness of the developing human placenta

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 16;117(24):13562-13570. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2002630117. Epub 2020 Jun 1.


Various pregnancy complications, such as severe forms of preeclampsia or intrauterine growth restriction, are thought to arise from failures in the differentiation of human placental trophoblasts. Progenitors of the latter either develop into invasive extravillous trophoblasts, remodeling the uterine vasculature, or fuse into multinuclear syncytiotrophoblasts transporting oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. However, key regulatory factors controlling trophoblast self-renewal and differentiation have been poorly elucidated. Using primary cells, three-dimensional organoids, and CRISPR-Cas9 genome-edited JEG-3 clones, we herein show that YAP, the transcriptional coactivator of the Hippo signaling pathway, promotes maintenance of cytotrophoblast progenitors by different genomic mechanisms. Genetic or chemical manipulation of YAP in these cellular models revealed that it stimulates proliferation and expression of cell cycle regulators and stemness-associated genes, but inhibits cell fusion and production of syncytiotrophoblast (STB)-specific proteins, such as hCG and GDF15. Genome-wide comparisons of primary villous cytotrophoblasts overexpressing constitutively active YAP-5SA with YAP KO cells and syncytializing trophoblasts revealed common target genes involved in trophoblast stemness and differentiation. ChIP-qPCR unraveled that YAP-5SA overexpression increased binding of YAP-TEAD4 complexes to promoters of proliferation-associated genes such as CCNA and CDK6 Moreover, repressive YAP-TEAD4 complexes containing the histone methyltransferase EZH2 were detected in the genomic regions of the STB-specific CGB5 and CGB7 genes. In summary, YAP plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of the human placental trophoblast epithelium. Besides activating stemness factors, it also directly represses genes promoting trophoblast cell fusion.

Keywords: placenta; stemness; trophoblast.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Placentation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Binding
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • TEA Domain Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Trophoblasts / cytology*
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism*
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • TEA Domain Transcription Factors
  • TEAD4 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins
  • YAP1 protein, human
  • CDK6 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6