Maternal obesity alters brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) signaling in the placenta in a sexually dimorphic manner

Calais S. Prince, Alina Maloyan, Leslie Myatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Introduction Obesity is a major clinical problem in obstetrics being associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and fetal programming. Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a validated miR-210 target, is necessary for placental development, fetal growth, glucose metabolism, and energy homeostasis. Plasma BDNF levels are reduced in obese individuals; however, placental BDNF has yet to be studied in the context of maternal obesity. In this study, we investigated the effect of maternal obesity and sexual dimorphism on placental BDNF signaling. Methods BDNF signaling was measured in placentas from lean (pre-pregnancy BMI < 25) and obese (pre-pregnancy BMI>30) women at term without medical complications that delivered via cesarean section without labor. MiRNA-210, BDNF mRNA, proBDNF, and mature BDNF were measured by RT – PCR, ELISA, and Western blot. Downstream signaling via TRKB (BDNF receptor) was measured using Western blot. Results Maternal obesity was associated with increased miRNA-210 and decreased BDNF mRNA in placentas from female fetuses, and decreased proBDNF in placentas from male fetuses. We also identified decreased mature BDNF in placentas from male fetuses when compared to female fetuses. Mir-210 expression was negatively correlated with mature BDNF protein. TRKB phosphorylated at tyrosine 817, not tyrosine 515, was increased in placentas from obese women. Maternal obesity was associated with increased phosphorylation of MAPK p38 in placentas from male fetuses, but not phosphorylation of ERK p42/44. Discussion BDNF regulation is complex and highly regulated. Pre-pregnancy/early maternal obesity adversely affects BDNF/TRKB signaling in the placenta in a sexually dimorphic manner. These data collectively suggest that induction of placental TRKB signaling could ameliorate the placental OB phenotype, thus improving perinatal outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Neurotrophin
  • Obesity
  • Placenta
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • microRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Developmental Biology


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