Nutrient transporter expression in both the placenta and fetal liver are affected by maternal smoking

Natasha Walker* (Corresponding Author), Panagiotis Filis, Peter J. O'Shaughnessy, Michelle Bellingham, Paul A. Fowler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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The placenta controls nutrient transfer between mother and fetus via membrane transporters. Appropriate transplacental passage of nutrients is essential for fetal growth and development. We investigated whether transporter transcript levels in human placenta-liver pairs from first and early second trimester pregnancies exhibit gestational age- or fetal sex-specific profiles and whether these are dysregulated by maternal smoking.


In a step-change for the field, paired placenta and fetal livers from 54 electively terminated, normally-progressing pregnancies (7–20 weeks of gestation, Scottish Advanced Fetal Research Study, REC 15/NS/0123) were sexed and cigarette smoking-exposure confirmed. Thirty-six nutrient transporter transcripts were quantified using RT-qPCR.


While fetal, liver and placenta weights were not altered by maternal smoking, levels of transporter transcripts changed with fetal age and sex in the placenta and fetal liver and their trajectories were altered if the mother smoked. Placental levels of glucose uptake transporters SLC2A1 and SLC2A3 increased in smoking-exposed fetuses while smoking was associated with altered levels of amino acid and fatty acid transporter genes in both tissues. SLC7A8, which exchanges non-essential amino acids in the fetus for essential amino acids from the placenta, was reduced in smoking-exposed placentas while transcript levels of four hepatic fatty acid uptake transporters were also reduced by smoking.


This data shows that fetal sex and age and maternal smoking are associated with altered transporter transcript levels. This could influence nutrient transport across the placenta and subsequent uptake by the fetal liver, altering trophic delivery to the growing fetus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-17
Number of pages8
Early online date25 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Authors would like to thank the nurses of ward 309 (Aberdeen Royal Infirmary) for consenting participants and NHS Grampian Biorepository staff. Also, Gary Cameron for performing the LC-MS/MS cotinine analyses and Ms Linda Robertson for technical assistance. The authors state there are no conflicts of interest. Author contributions: NW, PF and PAF designed the research; NW conducted research, analysed data and wrote paper; PAF responsible for ethics (SAFeR study). All authors read and approved the final manuscript. Authors would like to thank the study funders: Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity YRSS/PHD/2016/05 and UK Medical Research Council: MR/L010011/1, to PAF & PJOS and MR/P011535/1 to PAF. The funders played no role in the conduct, analysis or publication of the study


  • human
  • placenta
  • nutrient transport
  • maternal smoking
  • Human
  • Nutrient transport
  • Placenta
  • Maternal smoking


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