Changes in placental function, in particular down-regulation of placental O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) transferase (OGT) in response to maternal stress and increased placental secretion of serotonin into the fetal circulation following maternal infection, have been mechanistically linked to adverse neurodevelopment in mice. We hypothesized that mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling is a key regulator of trophoblast serotonin synthesis and OGT protein expression and that serotonin is secreted by the human placenta into the fetal circulation. Placental homogenates (n=46) from elective terminations at 8–22 weeks of gestation and from healthy-term women were sexed and the protein levels of OGT and enzymes involved in serotonin synthesis was determined. Primary human trophoblast (PHT) cells were isolated from normal term placenta (n=27), cultured and transfected (n=8) with siRNA targeting a scramble sequence (control), raptor (inhibits mTOR Complex 1 (mTORC1)), or rictor (inhibits mTOR Complex 2 (mTORC2)). Subsequently, conditioned media and PHT cell lysates were collected. Free serotonin concentration was measured using ELISA in cell culture media and in platelet-depleted normal term umbilical vein and artery plasma (n=38). Both mTORC1 and mTORC2 inhibition down-regulated OGT levels in PHT cells. The level of serotonin synthesis enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH-1) was higher in early gestation female placentas and at term serotonin concentration was three-fold higher in the umbilical vein than in the umbilical artery. Inhibition of mTORC2, but not mTORC1, increased cultured PHT cell serotonin secretion. Our data are consistent with the model that mTOR signaling is a key regulator of trophoblast serotonin synthesis and OGT protein expression.

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