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Placenta. 2013 Sep;34(9):817-23. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2013.05.010. Epub 2013 Jun 20.

Effect of oxygen on multidrug resistance in the first trimester human placenta.

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Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.



The multidrug resistance proteins, P-glycoprotein (P-gp, encoded by the ABCB1 gene) and breast cancer resistance protein (BCRP, encoded by ABCG2) are highly expressed in the first trimester placenta. These transporters protect the fetus from exposure to maternally derived toxins and xenobiotics. Since oxygen is a regulator of multidrug resistance in various tissues, we hypothesized that changes in oxygen tension alter placental ABCB1/P-gp and ABCG2/BCRP expression in the first trimester.


Placental specimens were collected from first (n = 7), second (n = 5) and term pregnancies (n = 5). First trimester placental villous explants were incubated (24 or 48 h) in different oxygen tension (3-20%). ABCB1, ABCG2 and VEGFA mRNA expression levels were assessed by RT-PCR and protein was localized by IHC.


ABCB1 is expressed most highly in the first trimester placenta (p < 0.05), whereas ABCG2 expression does not change significantly over pregnancy. P-gp and BCRP staining is present in the syncytiotrophoblast and in cytotrophoblasts. ABCG2 mRNA is increased in hyperoxic (20%) conditions after 48 h (p < 0.05). In contrast, hypoxia (3%) did not change ABCB1 mRNA expression but significantly increased VEGFA mRNA (p < 0.05). Hypoxia resulted in increased BCRP staining in cytotrophoblasts and in the microvillous membrane of the syncytium. Whereas, hypoxia resulted in increased P-gp staining in proliferating cytotrophoblasts.


We conclude that placental multidrug resistance expression, specifically ABCG2, is regulated by oxygen tension in the first trimester. It is possible that changes in placental oxygen supply are capable of altering fetal drug exposure especially during early pregnancy.


BCRP; First-trimester placenta; Hyperoxia; Hypoxia; Multidrug resistance; P-glycoprotein

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