Placental oxidative stress plays a key role in the pathophysiology of several placenta-related disorders including intrauterine growth restriction. Oxidative stress occurs when accumulation of reactive oxygen species damages DNA, proteins, and lipids, an outcome normally limited by antioxidant defenses. Dietary supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) may limit oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant capacity, but n-3 PUFAs are also highly susceptible to lipid peroxidation; so n-3 PUFA supplementation is potentially harmful. Here we examined the effect of n-3 PUFAs on placental oxidative stress and on placental and fetal growth in the rat. We also investigated whether diet-induced changes in maternal plasma fatty acid profiles are associated with comparable changes in placental and fetal tissues. Rats were fed either standard or high n-3 PUFA diets from Day 1 of pregnancy, and tissues were collected on Day 17 or 22 (term = Day 23). Dietary supplementation with n-3 PUFAs increased fetal (6%) and placental (12%) weights at Day 22, the latter attributable primarily to growth of the labyrinth zone (LZ). Increased LZ weight was accompanied by reduced LZ F2-isoprostanes (by 31% and 11% at Days 17 and 22, respectively), a marker of oxidative damage. Maternal plasma PUFA profiles were altered by dietary fatty acid intake and were strongly predictive of corresponding profiles in placental and fetal tissues. Our data indicate that n-3 PUFA supplementation reduces placental oxidative stress and enhances placental and fetal growth. Moreover, fatty acid profiles in the mother, placenta, and fetus are highly dependent on dietary fatty acid intake.
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