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Placenta. 1997 Nov;18(8):635-42.

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid transport across the perfused human placenta.

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Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, UK.


The role of the placenta in controlling the supply of fatty acids to the fetus was investigated in term placentae (n = 9) from normal pregnancies. The maternal side was perfused ex vivo for 90 min with a modified Krebs Ringer solution containing a physiological mixture of fatty acids and ratio of fatty acid to human albumin. There was no evidence of chain elongation and desaturation of the essential fatty acids. Relative to the value for oleic acid, the rate of transfer to the fetal circulation was: 1.30 +/- 0.02 (P < 0.001) for linoleic acid, 1.61 +/- 0.09 (P = 0.002) for alpha-linolenic acid, 0.67 +/- 0.10 (P = 0.033) for arachidonic acid and 2.10 +/- 0.16 (P = 0.003) for docosahexaenoic acid. For tissue accumulation the values were 1.47 +/- 0.39 (P < 0.001) for linoleic acid, 2.24 +/- 0.37 (P = 0.027) for alpha-linolenic acid, 9.84 +/- 1.03 (P = 0.001) for arachidonic acid, and 3.01 +/- 0.79 (P = 0.064) for docosahexaenoic acid. The order of selectivity for transfer from the maternal to the fetal circulation was docosahexaenoic > alpha-linolenic > linoleic > oleic > arachidonic acid. Such a mechanism would allow the preferential transfer of docosahexaenoic acid and the essential fatty acids to the fetal circulation, thereby protecting the polyunsaturated fatty acid supply to the fetus during a critical period of development.

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