Irisin induces trophoblast differentiation via AMPK activation in the human placenta

Sascha Drewlo, Eugenia Johnson, Brian A. Kilburn, Leena Kadam, Brooke Armistead, Hamid Reza Kohan-Ghadr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Irisin, an adipokine, regulates differentiation and phenotype in various cell types including myocytes, adipocytes, and osteoblasts. Circulating irisin concentration increases throughout human pregnancy. In pregnancy disorders such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus, circulating irisin levels are reduced compared to healthy controls. To date, there are no data on the role and molecular function of irisin in the human placenta or its contribution to pathophysiology. Aberrant trophoblast differentiation is involved in the pathophysiology of preeclampsia. The current study aimed to assess the molecular effects of irisin on trophoblast differentiation and function. First-trimester placental explants were cultured and treated with low (10 nM) and high (50 nM) physiological doses of irisin. Treatment with irisin dose-dependently increased both in vitro placental outgrowth (on Matrigel™) and trophoblast cell-cell fusion. Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signaling, an important regulator of cellular energy homeostasis that is involved in trophoblast differentiation and pathology, was subsequently investigated. Here, irisin exposure induced placental AMPK activation. To determine the effects of irisin on trophoblast differentiation, two trophoblast-like cell lines, HTR-8/SVneo and BeWo, were treated with irisin and/or a specific AMPK inhibitor (Compound C). Irisin-induced AMPK phosphorylation in HTR-8/SVneo cells. Additionally, as part of the differentiation process, integrin switching from α6 to α1 occurred as well as increased invasiveness. Overall, irisin promoted differentiation in villous and extravillous cell-based models via AMPK pathway activation. These findings provide evidence that exposure to irisin promotes differentiation and improves trophoblast functions in the human placenta that are affected in abnormal placentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7146-7158
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • cellular differentiation
  • hormone peptide
  • human placenta
  • irisin
  • trophoblast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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