Obesity and hyperlipidemia have a negative impact on fatty acid metabolism in the placenta during pregnancy as early as 7 weeks, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The placenta of male fetuses may be even more susceptible to this effect, the authors noted.

Since the placenta of women with fatty acid oxidation disorders, including long-chain fatty acid oxidation disorder (LCFAOD), cannot oxidize fats properly, complications affecting both the mother and fetus are likely during pregnancy.


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In the present study, a team of researchers led by Perrie O’Tierney-Ginn, PhD, from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, measured the expression of key regulators of fatty acid metabolism in the placenta of women, who were lean or obese, during the first 3 months of their pregnancy. They also measured the levels of fasting triglyceride and insulin in the serum of the women at the time of the procedure.

Read more about the complications of LCFAOD

They found that the expression of genes associated with fatty acid oxidation, uptake, synthesis, and storage were all significantly lower in the placenta of women with obesity compared to women who were lean.

Among the genes involved in fatty acid oxidation that the researchers analyzed was the 1 coding for carnitine palmitoyltransferase 2, the deficiency of which leads to 1 of the 6 types of LCFAOD. 

Fatty acid oxidation is a vital source of energy for the placenta, even when glucose is present, and is important for the health of the mother and the baby. In women with obesity, and in the case of LCFAOD, the deficiency in fatty acid oxidation leads to the accumulation of lipids in the placenta and creates a lipotoxic environment. This can cause liver damage and preeclampsia in the mother and result in fetal growth restriction and prematurity in the baby.

Reference

Rasool A, Mahmoud T, Mathyk B, et al. Obesity downregulates lipid metabolism genes in first trimester placenta. Sci Rep. Published online November 12, 2022. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-24040-9