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Hypoxia downregulates p53 but induces apoptosis and enhances expression of BAD in cultures of human syncytiotrophoblasts.

Chen B., Longtine M.S., Sadovsky Y., Nelson D.M.

Hypoxia is commonly assigned a role in the placental dysfunction characteristic of preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction. We previously showed that hypoxia upregulates p53 and enhances apoptosis in primary cultures of human cytotrophoblasts. Here we tested the hypothesis that hypoxia also induces apoptosis in syncytiotrophoblasts by upregulation of p53. Primary cultures of human cytotrophoblasts that had differentiated into syncytiotrophoblasts by 52 h were exposed for ≤24 h to 20% or <1% oxygen in the presence or absence of staurosporine or the p53 modulators nutlin-3, pifithrin-α, and pifithrin-μ. Proteins were detected by Western blot analysis or immunofluorescence. Compared with 20% oxygen, exposure of syncytiotrophoblasts to <1% oxygen upregulated hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α and rapidly downregulated p53. Activity of p53 in hypoxic syncytiotrophoblasts was reduced by the higher expression of the negative p53 regulator MDMX and by the reduction of phosphorylation of p53 at Ser(392), which reduces p53 activity. Conversely, staurosporine, a kinase inhibitor, and nutlin-3, a drug that enhances p53 expression, both raised p53 levels and increased the rate of apoptosis in syncytiotrophoblasts compared with vehicle controls. Immunofluorescence staining showed p53 immunolocalized to both cytoplasm and nuclei of nutlin-3-exposed syncytiotrophoblasts. The hypoxia-induced apoptosis in syncytiotrophoblasts correlated with enhanced expression of the proapoptotic BAD and a reduced level of antiapoptotic BAD phosphorylated on Ser(112). We surmise that cell death induced by extreme hypoxia in syncytiotrophoblasts follows a non-p53-dependent pathway, unlike that of a nonhypoxic stimulus and unlike hypoxic cytotrophoblasts. We speculate that downregulation of p53 activity in response to hypoxia reduces or eliminates the apoptosis transduced by the p53 pathway in syncytiotrophoblasts, thereby limiting cell death and maintaining the integrity of this critical villous component.

Am. J. Physiol., Cell Physiol. 299:C968-76(2010) [PubMed] [Europe PMC]

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