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Recent Prog Horm Res. 2003;58:263-81.

Dynamic changes in gene expression during human trophoblast differentiation.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology, Children's Hospital Research Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229-3039, USA. stuart.handwerger@chmcc.org


The genetic program that directs human placental differentiation is poorly understood. In a recent study, we used DNA microarray analyses to determine genes that are dynamically regulated during human placental development in an in vitro model system in which highly purified cytotrophoblast cells aggregate spontaneously and fuse to form a multinucleated syncytium that expresses placental lactogen, human chorionic gonadotropin, and other proteins normally expressed by fully differentiated syncytiotrophoblast cells. Of the 6918 genes present on the Incyte Human GEM V microarray that we analyzed over a 9-day period, 141 were induced and 256 were downregulated by more than 2-fold. The dynamically regulated genes fell into nine distinct kinetic patterns of induction or repression, as detected by the K-means algorithm. Classifying the genes according to functional characteristics, the regulated genes could be divided into six overall categories: cell and tissue structural dynamics, cell cycle and apoptosis, intercellular communication, metabolism, regulation of gene expression, and expressed sequence tags and function unknown. Gene expression changes within key functional categories were tightly coupled to the morphological changes that occurred during trophoblast differentiation. Within several key gene categories (e.g., cell and tissue structure), many genes were strongly activated, while others with related function were strongly repressed. These findings suggest that trophoblast differentiation is augmented by "categorical reprogramming" in which the ability of induced genes to function is enhanced by diminished synthesis of other genes within the same category. We also observed categorical reprogramming in human decidual fibroblasts decidualized in vitro in response to progesterone, estradiol, and cyclic AMP. While there was little overlap between genes that are dynamically regulated during trophoblast differentiation versus decidualization, many of the categories in which genes were strongly activated also contained genes whose expression was strongly diminished. Taken together, these findings point to a fundamental role for simultaneous induction and repression of mRNAs that encode functionally related proteins during the differentiation process.

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