Early prenatal stress (EPS), a key risk factor for neurodevelopmental disorders, produces a marked reduction in O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) in male placental tissue. In our current work, we determined that a targeted reduction of placental OGT recapitulates key features of EPS, including hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal stress axis dysregulation, reduced postpubertal growth, and hypothalamic mitochondrial dysfunction. These results confirm that OGT serves as a key placental biomarker and functions as an important mediator of the maternal changes occurring in response to stress.
Maternal stress is a key risk factor in neurodevelopmental disorders, which often have a sex bias in severity and prevalence. We previously identified O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) as a placental biomarker in our mouse model of early prenatal stress (EPS), where OGT levels were lower in male compared with female tissue and were further decreased following maternal stress. However, the function of placental OGT in programming the developing brain has not been determined. Therefore, we generated a transgenic mouse with targeted placental disruption of Ogt (Pl-OGT) and examined offspring for recapitulation of the adult EPS phenotype. Pl-OGT hemizygous and EPS male placentas showed similar robust changes in gene expression patterns suggestive of an altered ability to respond to endocrine and inflammatory signals, supporting placental OGT as an important mediator of EPS effects. ChIP-Seq for the O-GlcNAc mark identified the 17 beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 (Hsd17b3) locus in male EPS placentas, which correlated with a reduction in Hsd17b3 expression and concordant reduced testosterone conversion. Remarkably, Pl-OGT adult offspring had reduced body weights and elevated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal stress axis responsivity, recapitulating phenotypes previously reported for EPS males. Further, hypothalamic microarray gene-set enrichment analyses identified reduced mitochondrial function in both Pl-OGT and EPS males. Cytochrome c oxidase activity assays verified this finding, linking reduced placental OGT with critical brain programming. Together, these studies confirm OGT as in important placental biomarker of maternal stress and demonstrate the profound impact a single placental gene has on long-term metabolic and neurodevelopmental programming that may be related to an increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.