The role of insulin-like growth factor 2 receptor-mediated homeobox gene expression in human placental apoptosis, and its implications in idiopathic fetal growth restriction

Lynda K. Harris, Priyadarshini Pantham, Hannah E.J. Yong, Anita Pratt, Anthony J. Borg, Ian Crocker, Melissa Westwood, John Aplin, Bill Kalionis, Padma Murthi

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Fetal growth restriction (FGR) is caused by poor placental development and function early in gestation. It is well known that placentas from women with FGR exhibit reduced cell growth, elevated levels of apoptosis and perturbed expression of the growth factors, cytokines and the homeobox gene family of transcription factors. Previous studies have reported that insulin-like growth factor-2 (IGF2) interacts with its receptor-2 (IGF2R) to regulate villous trophoblast survival and apoptosis. In this study, we hypothesized that human placental IGF2R-mediated homeobox gene expression is altered in FGR and contributes to abnormal trophoblast function. This study was designed to determine the association between IGF2R, homeobox gene expression and cell survival in pregnancies affected by FGR. Third trimester placentas were collected from FGR-affected pregnancies (n = 29) and gestation matched with control pregnancies (n = 30). Functional analyses were then performed in vitro using term placental explants (n = 4) and BeWo trophoblast cells. mRNA expression was determined by real-time PCR, while protein expression was examined by immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. siRNA transfection was used to silence IGF2R expression in placental explants and the BeWo cell-line. cDNA arrays were used to screen for downstream targets of IGF2R, specifically homeobox gene transcription factors and apoptosis-related genes. Functional effects of silencing IGF2R were then verified by β-hCG ELISA, caspase activity assays and a real-time electrical cell-impedance assay for differentiation, apoptosis and cell growth potential, respectively. IGF2R expression was significantly decreased in placentas from pregnancies complicated by idiopathic FGR (P < 0.05 versus control). siRNA-mediated IGF2R knockdown in term placental explants and the trophoblast cell line BeWo resulted in altered expression of homeobox gene transcription factors, including increased expression of distal-less homeobox gene 5 (DLX5), and decreased expression of H2.0-Like Homeobox 1 (HLX) (P < 0.05 versus control). Knockdown of IGF2R transcription increased the expression and activity of caspase-6 and caspase-8 in placental explants, decreased BeWo proliferation and increased BeWo differentiation (all P < 0.05 compared to respective controls). This is the first study linking IGF2R placental expression with changes in the expression of homeobox genes that control cellular signalling pathways responsible for increased trophoblast cell apoptosis, which is a characteristic feature of FGR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-585
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • apoptosis
  • fetal growth restriction
  • homeobox genes
  • Insulin-like growth factor-2
  • placental expression

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