Fetal Exosomal Platelet-activating Factor Triggers Functional Progesterone Withdrawal in Human Placenta

Kristy T. Palomares, Nataliya Parobchak, Mayra Cruz Ithier, Lauren M. Aleksunes, Paula M. Castaño, Melody So, Revital Faro, Debra Heller, Bingbing Wang, Todd Rosen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In most mammals, labor is heralded by the withdrawal of progesterone. In humans, circulating progesterone levels increase as gestation advances while placental expression of progesterone receptor A (PR-A) declines. As a result of PR-A downregulation, the non-canonical NF-κB pathway is activated, an event implicated in triggering labor. Here, we sought to identify fetal-derived mediator(s) that represses placental PR-A in human placenta leading to activation of pro-labor signaling. Lipidomic profiling demonstrated enrichment of platelet-activating factor (PAF) in exosomes originating from the human fetus. Exposure of primary cytotrophoblasts to fetal exosomes from term pregnancies reduced PR-A expression by > 50%, and PAF also reduced PR-A message levels in a dose-dependent manner. Notably, fetal exosomes from preterm pregnancies had lower PAF levels and no effect on PR-A expression. Synthetic PAF–induced DNA methylation increases by 20% at the PR-A promoter, leading to recruitment of corepressors and downregulation of PR-A in cytotrophoblast. Furthermore, suppression of PR-A by PAF-stimulated expression of the pro-labor genes, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which was reversed by disruption of the DNA methyltransferases 3B and 3L. Taken together, PAF represents a novel fetal–derived candidate for initiation of labor by stimulating methylation and repression of PR-A and activating pro-labor signaling in trophoblast.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-262
Number of pages11
JournalReproductive Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Exosomes
  • Fetal cord blood
  • NF-kappaB
  • Platelet-activating factor
  • Progesterone receptor-A
  • methylation
  • placenta
  • pro-labor genes


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