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Placenta. 2013 Dec;34(12):1183-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2013.09.015. Epub 2013 Sep 29.

Evidence of sexual dimorphism in the placental function with severe preeclampsia.

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Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research, Dept of OB/GYN, University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78229, USA.


Preeclampsia (PE) affects 5-8% of pregnancies and is responsible for 18% of maternal deaths in the US, and for long-term complications in mother and child. PE is an inflammatory state and may influence placental function in a sex-specific manner. We determined if there is a sexual dimorphism in the placental inflammatory and apoptotic responses in preeclamptic pregnancies. Placentas were collected from normotensive and preeclamptic pregnancies with either male or female fetuses (MPE and FPE respectively) after c-section at term with no labor. Expression patterns of markers of inflammation measured by ELISA, as well as hypoxia, apoptosis and angiogenesis markers measured by Western blotting were determined in the placenta. Consistent with previous studies, an increase in inflammation, hypoxia, and apoptotic cell death was observed in PE compared to normotensive pregnancies. Levels of TNFα, IL-6 and IL-8, and HIF-1α were significantly greater, whereas the angiogenic marker VEGF was significantly reduced in MPE vs. FPE. Sexual dimorphism was also observed in the activation of cell death: the number of TUNEL-positive cells, and the expression pro-apoptotic markers PUMA and Bax being higher in MPE vs. FPE. We also found an increase in the levels of protein and DNA-binding activity of NFκB p65 in MPE vs. FPE. In summary, we show here that in preeclamptic pregnancies the placentas of males were associated with significantly higher expression of inflammatory, hypoxia and apoptotic molecules but reduced expression of a pro-angiogenic marker compared to placentas of female fetuses. We propose that the transcription factor NFκB p65 might, at least partially, be involved in sexual dimorphism during PE.


Apoptosis; BMI; HIF-1α; IL-6; IL-8; Inflammation; NFκB; NFκB p65; PE; PUMA; Preeclampsia; Sexual dimorphism; TNFα; VEGF; body mass index; hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha; interleukin 6; interleukin-8; nuclear factor kappa B; p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis; preeclampsia; tumor necrosis factor alpha; vascular endothelial growth factor

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