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Biochemistry - Obstetrics - Pediatrics and Child Health

Increased Expression and Altered Methylation of HERVWE1 in the Human Placentas of Smaller Fetuses from Monozygotic, Dichorionic, Discordant Twins
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Author: Yu Gao et al.

by Yu Gao, Zhiming He, Zilian Wang, Yanmin Luo, Hongyu Sun, Yi Zhou, Linhuan Huang, Manchao Li, Qun Fang, Shiwen Jiang


The human endogenous retroviral family W, Env(C7), member 1 gene (HERVWE1) is thought to participate in trophoblast cell fusion, and its expression is diminished in the placentas of singleton intrauterine growth-retarded pregnancies. However, there is limited information about the role of HERVWE1 in discordant fetal growth in twins. This study was to compare HERVWE1 gene expression between the placentas of discordant monozygotic twins and to identify its regulation by methylation.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Fetuses from twenty-one pairs of monozygotic, dichorionic, discordant twins were marked as “smaller” or “larger” according to birth weight. Placental HERVWE1 mRNA and protein expression profiles were analyzed using quantitative RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining. Methylation profiles of the HERVWE1 promoter region were analyzed using a pyrosequencing assay. DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) transcript levels were analyzed by RT-PCR. 5-methyl cytosine (5-MC) was stained using an immunohistochemical assay. There was a significant negative correlation between HERVWE1 mRNA levels and birth weight in twins (P<0.01). Whereas the mean methylation level of the HERVWE1 promoter region was diminished in the smaller group in discordant twins(P<0.01), increased mRNA and protein levels of HERVWE1 were found in smaller fetuses compared with larger fetuses in discordant twins(P<0.01). There was no significant difference in 5-MC staining intensity between discordant twins (P>0.05). The DNMT3b3 mRNA levels in the smaller group were significantly downregulated compared with the larger group in discordant twins(P<0.05), whereas the DNMT3b7 mRNA levels in the smaller group were significantly upregulated compared with the larger group in discordant twins(P<0.05).


In discordant, monozygotic, dichorionic twins, HERVWE1 expression was higher in smaller fetuses and lower in larger fetuses. Methylation of the HERVWE1 gene promoter region may participate in the regulation of HERVWE1 gene expression in discordant twin pregnancies.