Maternal folate deficiency is linked to restricted fetal growth, however the underlying mechanisms remain to be established. Here we tested the hypothesis that mTOR functions as a folate sensor in vivo in mice and that maternal folate deficiency inhibits placental mTOR signaling and amino acid transporter activity and causes fetal growth restriction. Folate deficient mice had lower serum folate (-60%). In late pregnancy, fetal weight in the folate deficient group was decreased (-17%, p < 0.05), whereas placental weight, litter size and crown rump length were unaltered. Maternal folate deficiency inhibited placental mTORC1 and mTORC2 signaling and decreased trophoblast plasma membrane System A and L amino acid transporter activities and transporter isoform expression. Folate deficiency also caused a decrease in phosphorylation of specific functional readouts of mTORC1 and mTORC2 signaling in multiple maternal and fetal tissues. We have identified a novel specific molecular link between maternal folate availability and fetal growth, involving regulation of placental mTOR signaling by folate, resulting in changes in placental nutrient transport. mTOR folate sensing may have broad biological significance because of the critical role of folate in normal cell function and the wide range of disorders, including cancer, that have been linked to folate availability.
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