MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are increasingly seen as important regulators of placental development and opportunistic biomarker targets. Given the difficulty in obtaining samples from early gestation and subsequent paucity of the same, investigation of the role of miRNAs in early gestation human placenta has been limited. To address this, we generated miRNA profiles using 96 placentas from presumed normal pregnancies, across early gestation, in combination with matched profiles from maternal plasma. Placenta samples range from 6 to 23 weeks’ gestation, a time period that includes placenta from the early, relatively low but physiological (6–10 weeks’ gestation) oxygen environment, and later, physiologically normal oxygen environment (11–23 weeks’ gestation).
We identified 637 miRNAs with expression in 86 samples (after removing poor quality samples), showing a clear gestational age gradient from 6 to 23 weeks’ gestation. We identified 374 differentially expressed (DE) miRNAs between placentas from 6–10 weeks’ versus 11–23 weeks’ gestation. We see a clear gestational age group bias in miRNA clusters C19MC, C14MC, miR-17 ~ 92 and paralogs, regions that also include many DE miRNAs. Proportional change in expression of placenta-specific miRNA clusters was reflected in maternal plasma.
The presumed introduction of oxygenated maternal blood into the placenta (between ~10 and 12 weeks’ gestation) changes the miRNA profile of the chorionic villus, particularly in placenta-specific miRNA clusters. Data presented here comprise a clinically important reference set for studying early placenta development and may underpin the generation of minimally invasive methods for monitoring placental health.