Ashley, B. et al.
Pregnancy 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations are associated with maternal and fetal health outcomes, but the underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated. Using physiological human placental perfusion approaches and intact villous explants we demonstrate a role for the placenta in regulating the relationships between maternal 25(OH)D concentrations and fetal physiology. Here, we demonstrate active placental uptake of 25(OH)D3 by endocytosis and placental metabolism of 25(OH)D3 into 24,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and active 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D3], with subsequent release of these metabolites into both the fetal and maternal circulations. Active placental transport of 25(OH)D3 and synthesis of 1,25(OH)2D3 demonstrate that fetal supply is dependent on placental function rather than solely the availability of maternal 25(OH)D3. We demonstrate that 25(OH)D3 exposure induces rapid effects on the placental transcriptome and proteome. These map to multiple pathways central to placental function and thereby fetal development, independent of vitamin D transfer, including transcriptional activation and inflammatory responses. Our data suggest that the underlying epigenetic landscape helps dictate the transcriptional response to vitamin D treatment. This is the first quantitative study demonstrating vitamin D transfer and metabolism by the human placenta; with widespread effects on the placenta itself. These data show complex and synergistic interplay between vitamin D and the placenta, and inform possible interventions to optimise placental function to better support fetal growth and the maternal adaptations to pregnancy.