Question: Is fatty acid uptake different between placentas of obese and non-obese women?
Answer: Yes. Long-chain unsaturated fatty acids enter the placenta at a different rate depending on maternal body mass index (BMI) at the start of her pregnancy. This was associated with differences in fatty acid transporter expression.
Surprises: The effect of maternal obesity on placental fatty acid uptake depends on whether the fetus is a boy or a girl! Placentas of male offspring showed an inhibition of fatty acid uptake when mothers were obese. Conversely, placentas of female offspring took up more unsaturated fatty acids (e.g. OA, oleic acid) when their mothers were obese. (see Figure from Brass, 2013).
So what: Male offspring have long been observed to be at a higher risk of poor outcomes when mothers have a complicated pregnancy. This could be related to their intrauterine growth patterns (Eriksson). Female fetuses appear to be more resilient in utero. These differences in growth may be related to placental function, such as we demonstrated in terms of fatty acid uptake.
Follow-up studies: We utilized our large database of fetal growth measurements to ask how male and female body composition at birth correlate with maternal measurements. (O’Tierney-Ginn) It turns out, males are quite sensitive to maternal body type, whereas female growth is less so.