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Reproduction. 2013 Jul 31;146(3):243-51. doi: 10.1530/REP-13-0239. Print 2013 Sep.

Differential effects of docosahexaenoic acid on preterm and term placental pro-oxidant/antioxidant balance.

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The Robinson Institute, University of Adelaide, 77 King William Road, North Adelaide, South Australia 5006, Australia.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in pregnancy may confer some clinical benefits; however, this compound can exert pro-oxidant effects. In this study, we investigated the effects of DHA on pro-oxidant/antioxidant balance in term and preterm placental explants, assessing oxidative stress marker concentrations, antioxidant capacity and pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Term (n=8) and preterm (n=9) placental explants were exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS, 1 ng/ml), DHA (1, 10 and 100 μM), and DHA and LPS simultaneously or pre-treated with DHA for 24  h prior to LPS treatment. The production of malondialdehyde (MDA, lipid peroxidation), 8-hydroxy-2-deoxy guanosine (8-OHdG, oxidative DNA damage) and pro-inflammatory cytokines (tumour necrosis factor α (TNFα), interleukin 6 and interferon-γ) and total antioxidant capacity were measured. DHA at a concentration of 100 μM induced oxidative stress in term placentas, while at all the three concentrations, it induced oxidative stress in preterm placentas. DHA and LPS resulted in reduced MDA levels in term (P<0.005) and preterm (P=0.004) placentas and reduced 8-OHdG levels in preterm placentas (P=0.035). DHA pre-treatment, but not co-treatment with LPS, reduced 8-OHdG levels (P<0.001) in term placentas. DHA increased antioxidant capacity only in term placentas (P<0.001), with lower antioxidant capacity being observed overall in preterm placentas compared with term placentas (P≤0.001). In term placentas, but not in preterm ones, DHA co-treatment and pre-treatment reduced LPS-induced TNFα levels. The ability of DHA to alter placental pro-oxidant/antioxidant balance is dependent on the DHA concentration used and the gestational age of the placental tissue. DHA has a greater capacity to increase oxidative stress in preterm placentas, but it offers greater protection against inflammation-induced oxidative stress in term placentas. This appears to be a result of DHA altering placental antioxidant capacity. These data have implications for the timing and concentration of DHA supplementation in pregnancy.

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