Placental amino acid transport is decreased in intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR); however, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. We have shown that mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signalling regulates system A amino acid transport by modulating the ubiquitination and plasma membrane trafficking of sodium-coupled neutral amino acid transporter 2 (SNAT-2) in cultured primary human trophoblast cells. We hypothesize that IUGR is associated with (1) inhibition of placental mTORC1 and mTORC2 signalling pathways, (2) increased amino acid transporter ubiquitination in placental homogenates and (3) decreased protein expression of SNAT-2 in the syncytiotrophoblast microvillous plasma membrane (MVM). To test this hypothesis, we collected placental tissue and isolated MVM from women with pregnancies complicated by IUGR (n=25) and gestational age-matched women with appropriately grown control infants (n=19, birth weights between the twenty-fifth to seventy-fifth percentiles). The activity of mTORC1 and mTORC2 was decreased whereas the protein expression of the ubiquitin ligase NEDD4-2 (neural precursor cell expressed developmentally down-regulated protein 4-2; +72%, P<0.0001) and the ubiquitination of SNAT-2 (+180%, P<0.05) were increased in homogenates of IUGR placentas. Furthermore, IUGR was associated with decreased system A amino acid transport activity (–72%, P<0.0001) and SNAT-1 (–42%, P<0.05) and SNAT-2 (–31%, P<0.05) protein expression in MVM. In summary, these findings are consistent with the possibility that decreased placental mTOR activity causes down-regulation of placental system A activity by shifting SNAT-2 trafficking towards proteasomal degradation, thereby contributing to decreased fetal amino acid availability and restricted fetal growth in IUGR.

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