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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 May 20;1638(1):63-71.

Hypoxia alters expression and function of syncytin and its receptor during trophoblast cell fusion of human placental BeWo cells: implications for impaired trophoblast syncytialisation in pre-eclampsia.

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Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, OX1 3QX, Oxford, UK.


The fundamental process of placental trophoblast cell fusion (syncytiotrophoblast formation or syncytialisation) which is a characteristic of this tissue is poorly understood. Pre-eclampsia is associated with placental hypoxia and suppressed syncytiotrophoblast formation. We therefore have studied the effect of low-oxygen tensions on the rate of cell fusion, relative abundance of mRNAs encoding syncytin and its receptor, amino acid transport system B(0), which are thought to be involved in trophoblast cell fusion (as well as the activity of amino acid transport through this system) in a cell model of syncytialisation (BeWo cells following forskolin treatment). Forskolin-induced cell fusion (determined by a quantitative flow cytometry assay) was reversibly suppressed in 2% oxygen compared to 20% oxygen. This was associated with suppressed secretion of human chorionic gonadotropin. Forskolin stimulated relatively less syncytin mRNA (determined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) in 2% than in 20% oxygen and there was no stimulation after 48 h in 2% oxygen. There was a spontaneous, time-dependent increase of amino acid transporter B(0) mRNA in vehicle, which was suppressed by 2% oxygen and by forskolin treatment in 20% oxygen. Forskolin-induced changes in amino acid transport system B(0) function were not seen in cells cultured for 48 h in 2% oxygen. These observations suggest that under conditions of low ambient oxygen, dysregulation of expression of syncytin and of its receptor may suppress the normal process of cell fusion necessary for syncytiotrophoblast formation and contributes to syncytiotrophoblast abnormalities characteristic of pre-eclampsia.

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