Food and Behaviour Research

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Periconceptional alcohol exposure causes female-specific perturbations to trophoblast differentiation and placental formation in the rat

Kalisch-Smith JI, Steane SE, Simmons DG, Pantaleon M, Anderson ST, Akison LK, Wlodek ME, Moritz KM (2019) Development 2019 June;  doi: 10.1242/dev.172205 

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The development of pathologies during pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, hypertension and fetal growth restriction (FGR), often originates from poor functioning of the placenta. In vivo models of maternal stressors, such as nutrient deficiency, and placental insufficiency often focus on inadequate growth of the fetus and placenta in late gestation.

These studies rarely investigate the origins of poor placental formation in early gestation, including those affecting the pre-implantation embryo and/or the uterine environment. The current study characterises the impact on blastocyst, uterine and placental outcomes in a rat model of periconceptional alcohol exposure, in which 12.5% ethanol is administered in a liquid diet from 4 days before until 4 days after conception. We show female-specific effects on trophoblast differentiation, embryo-uterine communication, and formation of the placental vasculature, resulting in markedly reduced placental volume at embryonic day 15.

Both sexes exhibited reduced trophectoderm pluripotency and global hypermethylation, suggestive of inappropriate epigenetic reprogramming. Furthermore, evidence of reduced placental nutrient exchange and reduced pre-implantation maternal plasma choline levels offers significant mechanistic insight into the origins of FGR in this model.