The syncytiotrophoblast (SCT) at the maternal-fetal interface has been presumed to be the primary driver of placental metabolism, and the underlying progenitor cytotrophoblast cells (CTB) an insignificant contributor to placental metabolic activity. However, we now show that the metabolic rate of CTB is much greater than the SCT. The oxygen consumption and extracellular acidification rate, a measure of glycolysis, are both greater in CTB than in SCT in vitro (CTB: 96 ± 16 vs SCT: 46 ± 14 pmol O 2 × min-1 × 100 ng DNA-1, p < 0.001) and (CTB: 43 ± 6.7 vs SCT 1.4 ± 1.0ΔmpH × min-1 × 100 ng DNA-1, p < 0.0001). Mitochondrial activity, as determined by using the mitochondrial activity-dependent dye Mitotracker CM-H 2 TMRosa, is higher in CTB than in SCT in culture and living explants. These data cast doubt on the previous supposition that the metabolic rate of the placenta is dominated by the SCT contribution. Moreover, differentiation into SCT leads to metabolic suppression. The normal suppression of metabolic activity during CTB differentiation to SCT is prevented with a p38 MAPK signaling inhibitor and epidermal growth factor co-treatment. We conclude that the undifferentiated CTB, in contrast to the SCT, is highly metabolically active, has a high level of fuel flexibility, and contributes substantially to global metabolism in the late gestation human placenta.
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