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Decreased Expression and Altered Methylation of Syncytin-1 Gene in Human Placentas Associated with Preeclampsia

[ Vol. 20 , Issue. 11 ]


Xue-Wei Zhuang, Jinping Li, Brian C. Brost, Xi-Yan Xia, Hai Bin Chen, Chuan-Xin Wang and Shi-Wen Jiang   Pages 1796 - 1802 ( 7 )


Syncytin-1 is a protein coded by a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) gene of the HERV-W family (HERVWE1). Syncytin- 1 mediates formation of syncytiotrophoblasts through fusion of cytotrophoblasts, a hallmark of terminal differentiation of placental trophoblast linage. Syncytin-1 also possesses nonfusogenic functions and regulates cell cycle progression. While decreased syncytin-1 expression and syncytium deficiency are considered important pathological changes in preeclampsia, the molecular mechanism(s) underlying syncytin-1 downregulation remains unclear. In this study, we confirmed that expression levels of syncytin-1 mRNA and protein were significantly lower in preeclamptic placentas compared to normal controls. Human chorionic somatomammotropin expression, a marker for syncytium function, was also decreased in preeclamptic placentas. The mRNA levels of ASCT2, the syncytin-1 receptor involved in cell fusion process, and GCMa, a transcriptional factor known to regulate syncytin-1 expression, were not significantly altered. Methylation in the 5’LTR of syncytin-1 promoter was quantified by COBRA, methylation-specific PCR, and DNA sequencing. Results from all three assays indicated significantly hypermethylated syncytin-1 promoter in preeclamptic placentas compared to normal controls. Methylation levels were inversely correlated with syncytin-1 mRNA levels, suggesting that hypermethylation may lead to syncytin-1 downregulation. Further experiments indicated that DNMT1 and DNMT3B3 mRNA and protein levels were increased in preeclamptic placentas, suggesting that higher DNA methyltransferase activity may contribute to the hypermethylation of syncytin-1 in preeclamptic placentas. These results indicated that aberrant hypermethylation is involved in downregulation of syncytin-1, and epigenetic alterations may play a significant role in the development of preeclampsia.


Syncytin-1, DNA methylation, preeclampsia, trophoblast, placenta.


, , , , , , Department of Biomedical Sciences, Mercer University School of Medicine, 4700 Waters Avenue, Savannah, GA 31404, USA.

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