Molecular Regulation of Maternal Hepatic Adaptations to Pregnancy

2020-05-01T22:11:45Z (GMT) by Joonyong Lee
The maternal liver exhibits robust adaptations to pregnancy to accommodate the metabolic needs of developing and growing placenta and fetus by largely unknown mechanisms. We found that achaete-scute homolog 1 (Ascl1), a basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor essential for neuronal development, is highly activated in maternal hepatocytes during the second half of gestation in mice. Our aim is to investigate whether and how Ascl1 plays a pregnancy-dependent role. We deleted the Ascl1 gene in the maternal liver using three independent mouse models from mid-gestation until term and identified multiple Ascl1-dependent phenotypes. When Ascl1 was deficient in maternal hepatocytes, maternal livers exhibited aberrant hepatocyte histology, fat accumulation, increased hepatocyte cell cycle, and enlarged size, accompanied by reduced albumin production and elevated levels of free fatty acids, ALT, and AST in the maternal blood, indicating maternal liver dysfunction. In the same situation, maternal spleen and pancreas displayed marked enlargement without an overt structural change; the placenta exhibited striking overgrowth with increased ALP production; and the cecal microbiome showed alterations in the relative abundance of several bacterial subpopulations. Moreover, litters born from maternal hepatic Ascl1 null mutated dam experienced abnormal postnatal growth after weaning. RNA-seq analysis revealed Ascl1-regulated genes in the maternal liver associated with Ascl1-dependent phenotypes. Of particular interest, we found that, in maternal hepatocytes, Ascl1 loss-of-function caused the activation of paternally imprinted gene insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) encoding a major placental and fetal growth factor. IGF2 is also a known mitogen for hepatocytes and several hematopoietic lineages. Thus, IGF2 is a potential inducer of Ascl1-dependent phenotypes including placental overgrowth and maternal organ enlargement. Our studies revealed Ascl1 as a novel regulator of maternal liver physiology during pregnancy. Ascl1 activation in maternal hepatocytes is essential for normal placental growth and appropriate maternal organ adaptations, ensuring the health of both the mother and the fetus.