During pregnancy, maternal metabolism undergoes substantial changes to support the developing fetus. Such changes are finely regulated by different mechanisms carried out by effectors such as microRNAs (miRNAs). These small non-coding RNAs regulate numerous biological functions, mostly through post-transcriptional repression of gene expression. miRNAs are also secreted in circulation by numerous organs, such as the placenta. However, the complete plasmatic microtranscriptome of pregnant women has still not been fully described, although some miRNA clusters from the chromosome 14 (C14MC) and the chromosome 19 (C19MC and miR-371-3 cluster) have been proposed as being specific to pregnancy. Our aims were thus to describe the plasma microtranscriptome during the first trimester of pregnancy, by assessing the differences with non-pregnant women, and how it varies between the 4 and the 16 week of pregnancy.
Plasmatic miRNAs from 436 pregnant (gestational week 4 to 16) and 15 non-pregnant women were quantified using Illumina HiSeq next-generation sequencing platform. Differentially abundant miRNAs were identified using DESeq2 package (FDR q-value ≤ 0.05) and their targeted biological pathways were assessed with DIANA-miRpath.
A total of 2101 miRNAs were detected, of which 191 were differentially abundant (fold change < 0.05 or > 2, FDR q-value ≤ 0.05) between pregnant and non-pregnant women. Of these, 100 miRNAs were less and 91 miRNAs were more abundant in pregnant women. Additionally, the abundance of 57 miRNAs varied according to gestational age at first trimester, of which 47 were positively and 10 were negatively associated with advancing gestational age. miRNAs from the C19MC were positively associated with both pregnancy and gestational age variation during the first trimester. Biological pathway analysis revealed that these 191 (pregnancy-specific) and 57 (gestational age markers) miRNAs targeted genes involved in fatty acid metabolism, ECM-receptor interaction and TGF-beta signaling pathways.
We have identified circulating miRNAs specific to pregnancy and/or that varied with gestational age in first trimester. These miRNAs target biological pathways involved in lipid metabolism as well as placenta and embryo development, suggesting a contribution to the maternal metabolic adaptation to pregnancy and fetal growth.