Fetal growth depends on placental function, which requires energy from mitochondria. Here we investigated whether mitochondrial function in the placenta relates to the growth of the lightest and heaviest fetuses of each sex within the litter of mice. Placentas from the lightest and heaviest fetuses were taken to evaluate placenta morphology (stereology), mitochondrial energetics (high-resolution respirometry), mitochondrial regulators, nutrient transporters, hormone handling, and signaling pathways (qPCR and Western blotting). We found that mitochondrial complex I and II oxygen consumption rate was greater for placentas supporting the lightest female fetuses, although placental complex I abundance of the lightest females and complexes III and V of the lightest males were decreased compared to their heaviest counterparts. Expression of mitochondrial biogenesis (Nrf1) and fission (Drp1 and Fis1) genes was lower in the placenta from the lightest females, whilst biogenesis-related gene Tfam was greater in the placenta of the lightest male fetuses. In addition, placental morphology and steroidogenic gene (Cyp17a1 and Cyp11a1) expression were aberrant for the lightest females, but glucose transporter (Slc2a1) expression was lower in only the lightest males versus their heaviest counterparts. Differences in intra-litter placental phenotype were related to changes in the expression of hormone-responsive (androgen receptor) and metabolic signaling (AMPK, AKT, and PPARγ) pathways. Thus, in normal mouse pregnancy, placental structure, function, and mitochondrial phenotype are differentially responsive to the growth of the female and male fetus. This study may inform the design of sex-specific therapies for placental insufficiency and fetal growth abnormalities with life-long benefits for the offspring.
Placenta structure, function, and mitochondrial functional capacity relate to the growth of the lightest and heaviest fetuses within the litter, and the nature of these changes differ in the two fetal sexes.
Here, we showed that in normal mouse pregnancy, placenta function varies between the lightest and the heaviest female and male fetuses within the litter. In particular, there are differences in mitochondria function, structure, nutrient transporters, metabolic pathways, and steroid signaling in the placental transport zone (labyrinth zone) that relate to fetal growth in the litter.