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Research Article

Hypoxia alters early gestation human cytotrophoblast differentiation/invasion in vitro and models the placental defects that occur in preeclampsia.

O Genbacev, R Joslin, C H Damsky, B M Polliotti and S J Fisher

Department of Stomatology, University of California San Francisco 94143-0512, USA.

Published January 15, 1996

During normal human pregnancy a subpopulation of fetal cytotrophoblast stem cells differentiate and invade the uterus and its arterioles. In the pregnancy disease preeclampsia, cytotrophoblast differentiation is abnormal and invasion is shallow. Thus, the placenta is relatively hypoxic. We investigated whether lowering oxygen tension affects cytotrophoblast differentiation and invasion. Previously we showed that when early gestation cytotrophoblast stem cells are cultured under standard conditions (20% O2) they differentiate/invade, replicating many aspects of the in vivo process. Specifically, the cells proliferate at a low rate and rapidly invade extracellular matrix (ECM) substrates, a phenomenon that requires switching their repertoire of integrin cell-ECM receptors, which are stage-specific antigens that mark specific transitions in the differentiation process. In this study we found that lowering oxygen tension to 2% did not change many of the cells' basic processes. However, there was a marked increase in their incorporation of [3H]thymidine and 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU). Moreover, they failed to invade ECM substrates, due at least in part to their inability to completely switch their integrin repertoire. These changes mimic many of the alterations in cytotrophoblast differentiation/invasion that occur in preeclampsia, suggesting that oxygen tension plays an important role in regulating these processes in vivo.