Apelin is a novel regulator of human trophoblast amino acid transport.

American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism (2019-03-06)
O R Vaughan, T L Powell, T Jansson

Apelin is an insulin-sensitizing hormone increased in abundance with obesity. Apelin and its receptor, APJ, are expressed in the human placenta, but whether apelin regulates placental function in normal body mass index (BMI) and obese pregnant women remains unknown. We hypothesized that apelin stimulates amino acid transport in cultured primary human trophoblast (PHT) cells and that maternal circulating apelin levels are elevated in obese pregnant women delivering large babies. Treating PHT cells with physiological concentrations of the pyroglutamated form [Pyr1]apelin-13 (0.1-10.0 ng/ml) for 24 h dose-dependently increased System A amino acid transport (P < 0.05) but did not affect System L transport activity. Mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1/2 (ERK1/2), and AMP-activated protein kinase-α (AMPKα) signaling were unaffected by apelin (P > 0.05). Plasma apelin was not different in obese women (BMI 35.8 ± 0.7, n = 21) with large babies compared with normal-BMI women (23.1 ± 0.5, n = 16) delivering normal birth weight infants. Apelin was highly expressed in placental villous tissue (20-fold higher vs. adipose), and APJ was present in syncytiotrophoblast microvillous membrane, but neither differed in abundance between normal-BMI and obese women. Phosphorylation (Thr172) of placental AMPKα strongly correlated with microvillous membrane APJ expression (P < 0.01, R = 0.63) but negatively correlated with placental apelin abundance (P < 0.01, R = -0.62). Neither placental APJ nor apelin abundance correlated with maternal BMI, plasma insulin, birth weight, or mTOR or ERK1/2 signaling (P > 0.05). Hence, apelin stimulates trophoblast amino acid uptake, establishing a novel mechanism regulating placental function. We found no evidence that apelin constitutes an endocrine link between maternal obesity and fetal overgrowth.