Activating Transcription Factor 3 Is Reduced in Preeclamptic Placentas and Negatively Regulates sFlt-1 (Soluble fms-Like Tyrosine Kinase 1), Soluble Endoglin, and Proinflammatory Cytokines in Placenta Academic Article uri icon


  • Preeclampsia is a major pregnancy complication associated with poor placental perfusion and placental hypoxia. Systemic and placental inflammation and elevated placental secretion of the antiangiogenic factors sFlt-1 (soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1) and sEng (soluble endoglin) are hallmarks of preeclampsia, causing endothelial dysfunction and multiorgan injury. A molecule that links placental hypoxia, inflammation, and antiangiogenic factor release has not been described. ATF3 (activating transcription factor 3) is highly expressed in placenta. We assessed whether placental ATF3 is dysregulated in preterm preeclampsia, is altered by hypoxia, and regulates proinflammatory cytokine and antiangiogenic factor production. ATF3 mRNA and protein expression was significantly reduced in preterm preeclamptic placentas compared with gestation-matched controls. Hypoxia reduced ATF3 expression in primary cytotrophoblast and placental explants. Silencing ATF3 in primary cytotrophoblast increased proinflammatory cytokine (IL-6 [interleukin 6], TNF-α [tumor necrosis factor α]) and NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) expression. In silico analysis identified an ATF3-binding site in the promoter of Flt-1 (the transcript from which sFlt-1 is produced). Silencing ATF3 increased sFlt-1 and sEng secretion from primary cytotrophoblast possibly by increasing Rab11a and Arf1, cargo proteins that facilitate exosomal release of sFlt-1. ATF3 knockout mice did not have a preeclampsia phenotype, suggesting that these pathways may be specific to humans (preeclampsia is a uniquely human condition). To conclude, we have shown that ATF3 is decreased in preeclamptic placentas and that this decrease is likely to occur after prolonged hypoxia. We show that ATF3 is a regulator of placental proinflammatory cytokines and antiangiogenic factors sFlt-1 and sEng. Therefore, reduced ATF3 may be centrally involved in the pathology of preeclampsia.


  • Kaitu’u-Lino, Tu uhevaha J
  • Brownfoot, Fiona C
  • Hastie, Roxanne
  • Chand, Ashwini
  • Cannon, Ping
  • Deo, Minh
  • Tuohey, Laura
  • Whitehead, Clare
  • Hannan, Natalie J
  • Tong, Stephen

publication date

  • 2017