Placental Mitochondrial Abnormalities in Preeclampsia

Reprod Sci. 2021 Aug;28(8):2186-2199. doi: 10.1007/s43032-021-00464-y. Epub 2021 Feb 1.


Preeclampsia complicates 5-8% of all pregnancies worldwide, and although its pathophysiology remains obscure, placental oxidative stress and mitochondrial abnormalities are considered to play a key role. Mitochondrial abnormalities in preeclamptic placentae have been described, but the extent to which mitochondrial content and the molecular pathways controlling this (mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy) are affected in preeclamptic placentae is unknown. Therefore, in preeclamptic (n = 12) and control (n = 11) placentae, we comprehensively assessed multiple indices of placental antioxidant status, mitochondrial content, mitochondrial biogenesis, mitophagy, and mitochondrial fusion and fission. In addition, we also explored gene expression profiles related to inflammation and apoptosis. Preeclamptic placentae were characterized by higher levels of oxidized glutathione, a higher total antioxidant capacity, and higher mRNA levels of the mitochondrial-located antioxidant enzyme manganese-dependent superoxide dismutase 2 compared to controls. Furthermore, mitochondrial content was significantly lower in preeclamptic placentae, which was accompanied by an increased abundance of key constituents of glycolysis. Moreover, mRNA and protein levels of key molecules involved in the regulation of mitochondrial biogenesis were lower in preeclamptic placentae, while the abundance of constituents of the mitophagy, autophagy, and mitochondrial fission machinery was higher compared to controls. In addition, we found evidence for activation of apoptosis and inflammation in preeclamptic placentae. This study is the first to comprehensively demonstrate abnormalities at the level of the mitochondrion and the molecular pathways controlling mitochondrial content/function in preeclamptic placentae. These aberrations may well contribute to the pathophysiology of preeclampsia by upregulating placental inflammation, oxidative stress, and apoptosis. Graphical Abstract.

Keywords: Glycolysis; Mitochondria; Mitophagy; Oxidative stress; Placenta; Preeclampsia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • superoxide dismutase 2