Sexual dimorphism in the effect of maternal obesity on antioxidant defense mechanisms in the human placenta

La Shauna Evans, Leslie Myatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Introduction Maternal obesity creates an adverse intrauterine environment, negatively impacts placental respiration, is associated with a higher incidence of pregnancy complications and programs the offspring for disease in adult life in a sexually dimorphic manner. We defined the effect of maternal obesity and fetal sex on pro- and anti-oxidant status in placenta and placental mitochondria. Methods: Placental villous tissue was collected at term via c-section prior to labor from four groups of patients based on fetal sex and prepregnancy/1st trimester body mass index: lean - BMI 22.1 ± 0.3 (6 male, 6 female) and obese - BMI 36.3 ± 0.4 (6 male, 6 female). Antioxidant enzyme activity, mitochondrial protein carbonyls, nitrotyrosine residues, total and nitrated superoxide dismutase (SOD) and nitric oxide synthesis were measured. Results: Maternal obesity was associated with decreased SOD and catalase activity, and total antioxidant capacity (TAC), but increased oxidative (protein carbonyls) and nitrative (nitrotyrosine) stress in a sexually dimorphic manner. Placentas of lean women with a male fetus had higher SOD activity and TAC (p < 0.05) than other groups whereas obese women with a male fetus had highest carbonyls and nitrotyrosine (p < 0.05). Glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase activity increased with obesity, significantly with a male fetus, perhaps as a compensatory response. Conclusion: Maternal obesity affects oxidative stress and antioxidant activity in the placenta in a sexually dimorphic manner. The male fetus of a lean women has the highest antioxidant activity, a protection which is lost with obesity perhaps contributing to the increased incidence of adverse outcomes with a male fetus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-69
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Antioxidants
  • Mitochondria
  • Obesity
  • Oxidative stress
  • Placenta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Developmental Biology


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