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Preeclampsia, a multisystem hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, is associated with increased systemic vascular resistance. Placentae from patients with preeclampsia have reduced levels of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) and, thus, less nitric oxide (NO). Syncytiotrophoblast extracellular vesicles (STBEV), comprising microvesicles (STBMV) and exosomes, carry signals from the syncytiotrophoblast to the mother. We hypothesized that STBEV-bound eNOS (STBEV-eNOS), capable of producing NO, are released into the maternal circulation. Dual-lobe ex vivo placental perfusion and differential centrifugation was used to isolate STBEV from preeclampsia (n=8) and normal pregnancies (NP; n=11). Plasma samples of gestational age-matched preeclampsia and NP (n=6) were used to isolate circulating STBMV. STBEV expressed placental alkaline phosphatase, confirming placental origin. STBEV coexpressed eNOS, but not inducible nitric oxide synthase, confirmed using Western blot, flow cytometry, and immunodepletion. STBEV-eNOS produced NO, which was significantly inhibited by N  G-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (eNOS inhibitor; P<0.05) but not by N-(3-(aminomethyl) bezyl) acetamidine) (inducible nitric oxide synthase inhibitor). STBEV-eNOS catalytic activity was confirmed by visualizing eNOS dimerization. STBEV-eNOS was more abundant in uterine vein compared with peripheral blood, indicating placental origin. STBEV isolated from preeclampsia-perfused placentae had lower levels of STBEV-eNOS (STBMV; P<0.05) and overall lower NO activity (STBMV, not significant; syncytiotrophoblast extracellular exosomes, P<0.05) compared with those from NP. Circulating plasma STBMV from preeclampsia women had lower STBEV-eNOS expression compared with that from NP women (P<0.01). This is the first observation of functional eNOS expressed on STBEV from NP and preeclampsia placentae, as well as in plasma. The lower STBEV-eNOS NO production seen in preeclampsia may contribute to the decreased NO bioavailability in this disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979)

Publication Date





372 - 381


From the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford, Women's Centre, John Radcliffe Hospital, United Kingdom (C.M.-M., N.K., W.Z., V.M., A.S.C., A.B., R.D., I.L.S., C.W.R., M.V.); Biosciences, College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom (C.M.-M., U.K.); and Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, United Kingdom (D.T.).


Cells, Cultured, Trophoblasts, Humans, Pre-Eclampsia, Hypertension, Nitric Oxide, Blood Pressure Determination, Pregnancy, Vascular Resistance, Adult, Female, Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III, Statistics as Topic, Extracellular Vesicles