Hyperandrogenism diminishes maternal-fetal fatty acid transport by increasing FABP4-mediated placental lipid accumulation†

Biol Reprod. 2022 Aug 9;107(2):514-528. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioac059.


Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) are critical for fetal brain development. Infants born to preeclamptic mothers or those born growth restricted due to placental insufficiency have reduced LCPUFA and are at higher risk for developing neurodevelopmental disorders. Since plasma levels of testosterone (T) and fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4) are elevated in preeclampsia, we hypothesized that elevated T induces the expression of FABP4 in the placenta leading to compromised transplacental transport of LCPUFAs. Increased maternal T in pregnant rats significantly decreased n-3 and n-6 LCPUFA levels in maternal and fetal circulation, but increased their placental accumulation. Dietary LCPUFAs supplementation in T dams increased LCPUFA levels in the maternal circulation and further augmented placental storage, while failing to increase fetal levels. The placenta in T dams exhibited increased FABP4 mRNA and protein levels. In vitro, T dose-dependently upregulated FABP4 transcription in trophoblasts. Testosterone stimulated androgen receptor (AR) recruitment to the androgen response element and trans-activated FABP4 promoter activity, both of which were abolished by AR antagonist. Testosterone in pregnant rats and cultured trophoblasts significantly reduced transplacental transport of C14-docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and increased C14-DHA accumulation in the placenta. Importantly, FABP4 overexpression by itself in pregnant rats and trophoblasts increased transplacental transport of C14-DHA with no significant placental accumulation. Testosterone exposure, in contrast, inhibited this FABP4-mediated effect by promoting C14-DHA placental accumulation.

Keywords: FABP4; androgens; fatty acids; fetal growth; placenta; preeclampsia; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hyperandrogenism* / metabolism
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia* / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Testosterone / pharmacology


  • FABP4 protein, rat
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Testosterone