Increased cell-free fetal DNA release after apoptosis and sterile inflammation in human trophoblast cells

Nazanin Yeganeh Kazemi, Bohdana Fedyshyn, Isabel Yelsa, Yaroslav Fedyshyn, Rodrigo Ruano, Svetomir N. Markovic, Rana Chakraborty, Elizabeth Ann L. Enninga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem: Cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) shed from the placenta can be detected in maternal blood and increases incrementally during gestation. Concentrations are further elevated with pregnancy complications. Specific activators of cffDNA release in such complications have not been identified. Here, we use trophoblast cells from early and term placenta to examine cffDNA release following apoptosis, infection, and sterile inflammatory stress. Method of Study: HTR8/SVneo cells were used to model first-trimester trophoblasts, and term cytotrophoblasts (CTBs) were isolated from placentae collected after uncomplicated deliveries. Trophoblasts were treated with varying concentrations of doxorubicin (DOX), lipopolysaccharide (LPS), or high-mobility group box protein 1 (HMGB1) for 18 h. Cells or supernatants were quantified for caspase-3/7 cleavage, pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion, and cffDNA release. Results: Both HTR8/SVneo and CTBs underwent caspase-3/7 cleavage following DOX treatment, with HTR8/SVneo cells more sensitive to apoptosis than term CTBs. Apoptotic cells released more cffDNA in a dose-dependent manner. Treatment with LPS resulted in an increase in pro-inflammatory IL-6 release, particularly in term CTBs compared to early trophoblasts; however, LPS did not affect cffDNA release. Lastly, while neither cell released more TNF-α following stimulation with HMGB1, both HTR8/SVneo and CTBs released significantly more cffDNA in the presence of HMGB1. Conclusions: These data show that apoptosis and sterile inflammation induced by DOX and HMGB1, respectively, cause an increase in cffDNA concentrations in both first-trimester and term trophoblasts. Understanding physiologic release of cffDNA during healthy and complicated pregnancy can identify new targets for the diagnosis and treatment of gestational complications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13483
JournalAmerican Journal of Reproductive Immunology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • apoptosis
  • cell-free fetal DNA
  • inflammation
  • placenta
  • trophoblast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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