The polarized localization of lipoprotein receptors and cholesterol transporters in the syncytiotrophoblast of the placenta is reproducible in a monolayer of primary human trophoblasts

Placenta. 2021 Feb:105:50-60. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2021.01.019. Epub 2021 Jan 26.


Introduction: The uptake of low- and high-density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL) through the LDL receptor (LDLR) and the scavenger receptor class B type I (SR-BI) mediates maternal to fetal cholesterol transfer in syncytiotrophoblast (STB) cells. STB cells deliver cholesterol via cholesterol efflux through the ATP-binding cassette transporters A1 (ABCA1, to ApoA-I), G1 (ABCG1, to HDL), and SR-BI (to HDL). In the human placenta, these proteins are localized in the apical (LDLR, SR-BI, ABCA1) and basal (SR-BI, ABCA1, ABCG1) membrane of STB cells. However, whether these proteins in polarized primary culture models of STB show a similar localization to those in the human placenta is currently unknown.

Methods: Primary human trophoblasts (PHT) were isolated from normal placentas and cultured in Transwells® with Matrigel to obtain a polarized STB monolayer, proteins were determined by immunofluorescence and cholesterol efflux determined to different acceptors.

Results: At day 5, LDLR and ABCA1 localized mainly in the apical membrane, ABCG1 in the basal membrane, and SR-BI in both. Cholesterol efflux towards the apical compartment was higher to adult and neonatal HDL compared to ApoA-I. When acceptors were added in the basal compartment, cholesterol was retained in the Matrigel.

Discussion: Polarized STB monolayers express LDLR, SR-BI, ABCA1 and ABCG1, and their apical/basal localization resembles the one described in human placental tissue. This study confirms the high physiological value and suitability of this model for use in functional studies. Our findings also suggest that ABCA1 and SR-BI participate in cholesterol efflux to the maternal side of the cells.

Keywords: Cholesterol efflux; Cholesterol transfer; Cholesterol transporters; Lipoprotein receptors; Polarized trophoblast monolayer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Transport
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptors, Lipoprotein / metabolism*
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism*


  • Lipoproteins
  • Receptors, Lipoprotein
  • Cholesterol