Maternal cold exposure induces distinct transcriptome changes in the placenta and fetal brown adipose tissue in mice

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BACKGROUND: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is specialized to dissipate energy in the form of heat. BAT-mediated heat production in rodents and humans is critical for effective temperature adaptation of newborns to the extrauterine environment immediately after birth. However, very little is known about whether and how fetal BAT development is modulated in-utero in response to changes in maternal thermal environment during pregnancy. Using BL6 mice, we evaluated the impact of different maternal environmental temperatures (28 °C and 18 °C) on the transcriptome of the placenta and fetal BAT to test if maternal cold exposure influences fetal BAT development via placental remodeling. RESULTS: Maternal weight gain during pregnancy, the average number of fetuses per pregnancy, and placental weight did not differ between the groups at 28 °C and 18 °C. However, the average fetal weight at E18.5 was 6% lower in the 18 °C-group compared to the 28 °C-group. In fetal BATs, cold exposure during pregnancy induced increased expression of genes involved in de novo lipogenesis and lipid metabolism while decreasing the expression of genes associated with muscle cell differentiation, thus suggesting that maternal cold exposure may promote fetal brown adipogenesis by suppressing the myogenic lineage in bidirectional progenitors. In placental tissues, maternal cold exposure was associated with upregulation of genes involved in complement activation and downregulation of genes related to muscle contraction and actin-myosin filament sliding. These changes may coordinate placental adaptation to maternal cold exposure, potentially by protecting against cold stress-induced inflammatory damage and modulating the vascular and extravascular contractile system in the placenta. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide evidence that environmental cold temperature sensed by the mother can modulate the transcriptome of placental and fetal BAT tissues. The ramifications of the observed gene expression changes warrant future investigation.

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BMC genomics

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