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Lipid rafts are detergent-insoluble, low-density membrane domains that are rich in cholesterol and sphingolipids; caveolae are a subdomain of the biochemically defined glycolipid raft whose expression is associated with the protein caveolin-1. This protein associates with numerous signalling molecules, regulating their activity by holding them inactive. Human villous cytotrophoblasts contain caveolin-1, but levels reduce greatly during their differentiation into syncytiotrophoblast. Since caveolin-1 is a known regulator of apoptosis and trophoblast syncytialisation involves the apoptotic cascade, we hypothesised that cytotrophoblast caveolin-1 may also play a role in regulating fusion events involved in syncytium formation. The BeWo choriocarcinoma cell line has previously proved valuable for studying trophoblast syncytialisation, hence the present work was carried out to determine whether BeWo cells could be used as a model for the exploration of caveolin-1's role in regulating the syncytialisation process. Undifferentiated BeWo cells were found to express caveolin-1 in similar amounts to villous cytotrophoblasts isolated from term placenta. Lipid raft fractions prepared from these BeWo cells at confluence contained the raft-associated proteins caveolin-1 and -2, flotillin-1 and -2, stomatin and the heterotrimeric G protein, Galphaq. Confocal immunofluorescence studies revealed that caveolin-1 is internalized to the mitochondria, but not to the Golgi or endoplasmic reticulum, in subconfluent BeWo and that the protein relocates to the plasma membrane upon confluence, an observation confirmed by caveolin-1 and cytochrome c Western blotting of lipid raft fractions and mitochondria purified from confluent and subconfluent cells. Western blotting and immunofluorescence experiments comparing undifferentiated cells and those induced to differentiate using the cAMP analogue, dibutyryl cAMP, showed that BeWo syncytialisation was accompanied by a reduction in caveolin-1 levels, similar to the situation in primary villous cytotrophoblasts. Confluent, undifferentiated BeWo cultures were then used to investigate the cellular localisation of Rock-1, a protein which promotes cytoskeletal re-organisation important for syncytialisation and apoptosis. Its association with caveolin-1 was evidenced by the demonstration that the 160kDa proenzyme form of Rock-1 co-immunoprecipitates with caveolin-1 and vice versa, as well as by the co-localisation of the two proteins at the plasma membrane, as shown in immunofluorescence studies. A proportion of the total cell Rock-1 content was found in BeWo lipid raft fractions, confirming its membrane presence in confluent cells. This close association of plasmalemmal caveolin-1 with Rock-1 protein raises the possibility that caveolin-1 may regulate Rock-1 in these trophoblasts. We conclude that cell-cell contact is required for BeWo trophoblast to exhibit plasmalemmal caveolin-1; BeWo cells at confluence offer a useful model for the study of trophoblast raft behaviour during syncytialisation and for the exploration of the potential Rock-1-regulating role of caveolin-1 in this process.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





139 - 151


Caveolin 1, Cell Differentiation, Cell Line, Tumor, Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Gene Expression, Humans, Immunoprecipitation, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Membrane Microdomains, Microscopy, Confocal, Mitochondria, Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases, Trophoblasts, rho-Associated Kinases