Background: Placental malaria is a major cause of low birthweight, principally due to impaired fetal growth. Intervillositis, a local inflammatory response to placental malaria, is central to the pathogenesis of poor fetal growth as it impairs transplacental amino acid transport. Given the link between inflammation and autophagy, we investigated whether placental malaria-associated intervillositis increased placental autophagy as a potential mechanism in impaired fetal growth. Methods: We examined placental biopsies collected after delivery from uninfected women (n = 17) and from women with Plasmodium falciparum infection with (n = 14) and without (n = 7) intervillositis. Western blotting and immunofluorescence staining coupled with advanced image analysis were used to quantify the expression of autophagic markers (LC3-II, LC3-I, Rab7, ATG4B and p62) and the density of autophagosomes (LC3-positive puncta) and lysosomes (LAMP1-positive puncta). Results: Placental malaria with intervillositis was associated with higher LC3-II:LC3-I ratio, suggesting increased autophagosome formation. We found higher density of autophagosomes and lysosomes in the syncytiotrophoblast of malaria-infected placentas with intervillositis. However, there appear to be no biologically relevant increase in LC3B/LAMP1 colocalization and expression of Rab7, a molecule involved in autophagosome/lysosome fusion, was lower in placental malaria with intervillositis, indicating a block in the later stage of autophagy. ATG4B and p62 expression showed no significant difference across histological groups suggesting normal autophagosome maturation and loading of cargo proteins into autophagosomes. The density of autophagosomes and lysosomes in the syncytiotrophoblast was negatively correlated with placental amino acid uptake. Conclusions Placental malaria-associated intervillositis is associated with dysregulated autophagy that may impair transplacental amino acid transport, possibly contributing to poor fetal growth.
- autophagic cell death
- malarial parasites