Trophoblast-Specific Expression of Hif-1α Results in Preeclampsia-Like Symptoms and Fetal Growth Restriction

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The placenta is an essential organ that is formed during pregnancy and its proper development is critical for embryonic survival. While several animal models have been shown to exhibit some of the pathological effects present in human preeclampsia, these models often do not represent the physiological aspects that have been identified. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (Hif-1α) is a necessary component of the cellular oxygen-sensing machinery and has been implicated as a major regulator of trophoblast differentiation. Elevated levels of Hif-1α in the human placenta have been linked to the development of pregnancy-associated disorders, such as preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction. As oxygen regulation is a critical determinant for placentogenesis, we determined the effects of constitutively active Hif-1α, specifically in trophoblasts, on mouse placental development in vivo. Our research indicates that prolonged expression of trophoblast-specific Hif-1α leads to a significant decrease in fetal birth weight. In addition, we noted significant physiological alterations in placental differentiation that included reduced branching morphogenesis, alterations in maternal and fetal blood spaces, and failure to remodel the maternal spiral arteries. These placental alterations resulted in subsequent maternal hypertension with parturitional resolution and maternal kidney glomeruloendotheliosis with accompanying proteinuria, classic hallmarks of preeclampsia. Our findings identify Hif-1α as a critical molecular mediator of placental development and indicate that prolonged expression of Hif-1α, explicitly in placental trophoblasts causes maternal pathology and establishes a mouse model that significantly recapitulates the physiological and pathophysiological characteristics of preeclampsia with fetal growth restriction.