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Mol Hum Reprod. 2013 Nov;19(11):764-72. doi: 10.1093/molehr/gat048. Epub 2013 Jul 4.

Leptin is differentially expressed and epigenetically regulated across monochorionic twin placenta with discordant fetal growth.

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1
Fetal Medicine Unit, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada.

Abstract

Severely growth-discordant monochorionic (MC) twins offer a unique opportunity to study fetal and placental growth based on a similar genetic background and maternal host environment where the healthy twin serves as an ideal control. Differences in development of MC twins may therefore be due to differential epigenetic regulation of genes involved in placental development and function. Growth-discordant twins are known for abnormal angio-architecture in the placenta of the smaller twin. Since the reasons for this phenotype are mostly unknown this study was aimed to investigate the expression and regulation of genes known to be involved in angiogenesis. We studied 10 severely growth-discordant MC twin placentas (birthweight difference ≥20%) without twin-twin-transfusion syndrome and 5 growth-concordant MC twin placentas. Growth-discordant twin placentas were phenotyped by histology. Placental mRNA expression of 88 angiogenesis-related genes was measured by PCR array. ELISA assay and immunohistochemistry were used to confirm PCR results. EpiTYPTER for DNA methylation was used to determine if methylation ratios were responsible for differential gene expression. The PCR array analysis showed significant mRNA up-regulation in the placental share of the smaller twin for several genes. These included leptin (24.6-fold, P = 0.017), fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (Flt1, 2.4-fold, P = 0.016) and Endoglin (Eng, 1.86-fold, P = 0.078). None of the other 84 angiogenesis-related genes showed significant differences. ELISA confirmed significantly increased leptin protein expression (49.22 versus 11.03 pg/ml, P = 0.049) in the smaller twin of the discordant growth cohort. Leptin expression in smaller twins' placentas was associated with elevated DNA methylation of the leptin promotor region suggesting the inhibition of binding of a transcriptional activator/inhibitor in that region. We attempted to overcome the limitation of sample size by careful patient selection. We minimized any bias in placental sampling by random sampling from two different sites and by avoiding sampling from areas with grossly visible abnormalities using a standardized sampling protocol. In conclusion, the smaller twin's placenta is characterized by differentially increased gene expressions for Flt1 and Eng mRNA that may be causally associated with the villous pathology driven by abnormal feto-placental angiogenesis. The substantial up-regulation of leptin mRNA may be epigenetically conferred and relevant to the post-natal risk of metabolic syndrome in intrauterine growth restriction offspring with placental pathology. Growth-discordant MC twins offer unique insights into the epigenetic basis of perinatal programming.

KEYWORDS:

angiogenesis; discordant growth; leptin; multiple pregnancy; placenta

PMID:
23832168
DOI:
10.1093/molehr/gat048
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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