Testosterone Decreases Placental Mitochondrial Content and Cellular Bioenergetics

Biology (Basel). 2020 Jul 20;9(7):176. doi: 10.3390/biology9070176.


Placental mitochondrial dysfunction plays a central role in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia. Since preeclampsia is a hyperandrogenic state, we hypothesized that elevated maternal testosterone levels induce damage to placental mitochondria and decrease bioenergetic profiles. To test this hypothesis, pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with vehicle or testosterone propionate (0.5 mg/kg/day) from gestation day (GD) 15 to 19. On GD20, the placentas were isolated to assess mitochondrial structure, copy number, ATP/ADP ratio, and biogenesis (Pgc-1α and Nrf1). In addition, in vitro cultures of human trophoblasts (HTR-8/SVneo) were treated with dihydrotestosterone (0.3, 1.0, and 3.0 nM), and bioenergetic profiles using seahorse analyzer were assessed. Testosterone exposure in pregnant rats led to a 2-fold increase in plasma testosterone levels with an associated decrease in placental and fetal weights compared with controls. Elevated maternal testosterone levels induced structural damage to the placental mitochondria and decreased mitochondrial copy number. The ATP/ADP ratio was reduced with a parallel decrease in the mRNA and protein expression of Pgc-1α and Nrf1 in the placenta of testosterone-treated rats compared with controls. In cultured trophoblasts, dihydrotestosterone decreased the mitochondrial copy number and reduced PGC-1α, NRF1 mRNA, and protein levels without altering the expression of mitochondrial fission/fusion genes. Dihydrotestosterone exposure induced significant mitochondrial energy deficits with a dose-dependent decrease in basal respiration, ATP-linked respiration, maximal respiration, and spare respiratory capacity. In summary, our study suggests that the placental mitochondrial dysfunction induced by elevated maternal testosterone might be a potential mechanism linking preeclampsia to feto-placental growth restriction.

Keywords: NRF1; PGC-1α; mitochondria; oxygen consumption; placenta; preeclampsia; respiration; testosterone; trophoblast.