Apoptosis in human cultured trophoblasts is enhanced by hypoxia and diminished by epidermal growth factor

Roni Levy, Steven D. Smith, Kala Chandler, Yoel Sadovsky, D. Michael Nelson

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182 Scopus citations


Preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction are associated with placental hypoperfusion and villous hypoxia. The villous response to this environment includes diminished trophoblast differentiation and enhanced apoptosis. We tested the hypothesis that hypoxia induces apoptosis in cultured trophoblasts, and that epidermal growth factor (EGF), an enhancer of trophoblast differentiation, diminishes hypoxia-induced apoptosis. Trophoblasts isolated from placentas of term-uncomplicated human pregnancies were cultured up to 72 h in standard (Po2 = 120 mmHg) or hypoxic (Po2 < 15 mmHg) conditions. Exposure to hypoxia for 24 h markedly enhanced trophoblast apoptosis as determined by DNA laddering, internucleosomal in situ DNA fragmentation, and histomorphology, as well as by the reversibility of the apoptotic process with a caspase inhibitor. Apoptosis was accompanied by increased expression of p53 and Bax and decreased expression of Bcl-2. Addition of EGF to cultured trophoblasts or exposure of more differentiated trophoblasts to hypoxia significantly lowered the level of apoptosis. We conclude that hypoxia enhances apoptosis in cultured trophoblasts by a mechanism that involves an increase in p53 and Bax expression. EGF and enhancement of cell differentiation protect against hypoxic-induced apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)C982-C988
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number5 47-5
StatePublished - 2000


  • Bcl-2 proteins
  • Caspase inhibitor
  • DNA fragmentation
  • p53


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