Human Placental NADPH Oxidase Mediates sFlt-1 and PlGF Secretion in Early Pregnancy: Exploration of the TGF-β1/p38 MAPK Pathways

Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Feb 12;10(2):281. doi: 10.3390/antiox10020281.


Preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder occurring during pregnancy, is characterized by excessive oxidative stress and trophoblast dysfunction with dysregulation of soluble Fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (sFlt-1) and placental growth factor (PlGF) production. Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate (NADPH) oxidase (Nox) is the major source of placental superoxide in early pregnancy and its activation with the subsequent formation of superoxide has been demonstrated for various agents including Transforming Growth Factor beta-1 (TGF-β1), a well-known p38 MAPK pathway activator. However, the bridge between Nox and sFlt-1 remains unknown. The purpose of this study was to explore the possible signaling pathway of TGF-β1/Nox/p38 induced sFlt-1 production in human chorionic villi (CV).

Methods: Human chorionic villi from first trimester placenta (7-9 Gestational Weeks (GW)) were treated with TGF-β1 or preincubated with p38 inhibitor, SB203580. For NADPH oxidase inhibition, CV were treated with diphenyleneiodonium (DPI). The protein levels of phospho-p38, p38, phospho-Mothers Against Decapentaplegic homolog 2 (SMAD2), and SMAD2 were detected by Western blot. The secretion of sFlt-1 and PlGF by chorionic villi were measured with Electrochemiluminescence Immunologic Assays, and NADPH oxidase activity was monitored by lucigenin method.

Results: We demonstrate for the first time that NADPH oxidase is involved in sFlt-1 and PlGF secretion in first trimester chorionic villi. Indeed, the inhibition of Nox by DPI decreases sFlt-1, and increases PlGF secretions. We also demonstrate the involvement of p38 MAPK in sFlt-1 secretion and Nox activation as blocking the p38 MAPK phosphorylation decreases both sFlt-1 secretion and superoxide production. Nevertheless, TGF-β1-mediated p38 activation do not seem to be involved in regulation of the first trimester placental angiogenic balance and no crosstalk was found between SMAD2 and p38 MAPK pathways.

Conclusions: Thus, the placental NADPH oxidase play a major role in mediating the signal transduction cascade of sFlt-1 production. Furthermore, we highlight for the first time the involvement of p38 activation in first trimester placental Nox activity.

Keywords: NADPH oxidase; SMAD2; first trimester; p38 MAPK; preeclampsia; pregnancy; sFlt-1.