Placental Metabolomics for Assessment of Sex-specific Differences in Fetal Development During Normal Gestation

Sci Rep. 2020 Jun 10;10(1):9399. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-66222-3.


The placenta is a metabolically active interfacial organ that plays crucial roles in fetal nutrient delivery, gas exchange and waste removal reflecting dynamic maternal and fetal interactions during gestation. There is growing evidence that the sex of the placenta influences fetal responses to external stimuli in utero, such as changes in maternal nutrition and exposure to environmental stressors. However, the exact biochemical mechanisms associated with sex-specific metabolic adaptations during pregnancy and its link to placental function and fetal development remain poorly understood. Herein, multisegment injection-capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry is used as a high throughput metabolomics platform to characterize lyophilized placental tissue (~2 mg dried weight) from C57BL/6J mice fed a standardized diet. Over 130 authentic metabolites were consistently measured from placental extracts when using a nontargeted metabolomics workflow with stringent quality control and robust batch correction. Our work revealed distinct metabolic phenotype differences that exist between male (n = 14) and female (n = 14) placentae collected at embryonic day E18.5. Intracellular metabolites associated with fatty acid oxidation and purine degradation were found to be elevated in females as compared to male placentae (p < 0.05, effect size >0.40), including uric acid, valerylcarnitine, hexanoylcarnitine, and 3-hydroxyhexanolycarnitine. This murine model sheds new insights into sex-specific differences in placental mitochondrial function and protective mechanisms against deleterious oxidative stress that may impact fetal growth and birth outcomes later in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Metabolome / physiology*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Purines / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Fatty Acids
  • Purines
  • purine