Open Access Research article

Nucleotide excision repair/transcription gene defects in the fetus and impaired TFIIH-mediated function in transcription in placenta leading to preeclampsia

Roxana Moslehi12*, Xavier Ambroggio3, Vijayaraj Nagarajan4, Anil Kumar1 and Amiran Dzutsev56*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY), Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA

2 Cancer Research Center, University at Albany, SUNY, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA

3 Rosetta Design Group LLC, Burlington, VT 05401, USA

4 Bioinformatics and Computational Biosciences Branch (BCBB), Office of Cyber Infrastructure and Computational Biology (OCICB), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

5 Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc, Frederick, MD 21701, USA

6 Cancer and Inflammation Program, National Cancer Institute (NCI), NIH, Frederick, MD 21702, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:373  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-373

Published: 15 May 2014



Preeclampsia is a significant cause of maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity worldwide. We previously reported associations between trichothiodystrophy (TTD) nucleotide excision repair (NER) and transcription gene mutations in the fetus and the risk of gestational complications including preeclampsia. TTD NER/transcription genes, XPD, XPB and TTD-A, code for subunits of Transcription Factor (TF)IIH. Interpreting XPD mutations in the context of available biochemical data led us to propose adverse effects on CDK-activating kinase (CAK) subunit of TFIIH and TFIIH-mediated functions as a relevant mechanism in preeclampsia. In order to gain deeper insight into the underlying biologic mechanisms involving TFIIH-mediated functions in placenta, we analyzed NER/transcription and global gene expression profiles of normal and preeclamptic placentas and studied gene regulatory networks.


We found high expression of TTD NER/transcription genes in normal human placenta, above the mean of their expression in all organs. XPD and XPB were consistently expressed from 14 to 40 weeks gestation while expression of TTD-A was strongly negatively correlated (r = -0.7, P < 0.0001) with gestational age. Analysis of gene expression patterns of placentas from a case-control study of preeclampsia using Algorithm for Reconstruction of Accurate Cellular Networks (ARACNE) revealed GTF2E1, a component of TFIIE which modulates TFIIH, among major regulators of differentially-expressed genes in preeclampsia. The basal transcription pathway was among the largest dysregulated protein-protein interaction networks in this preeclampsia dataset. Within the basal transcription pathway, significantly down-regulated genes besides GTF2E1 included those coding for the CAK complex of TFIIH, namely CDK7, CCNH, and MNAT1. Analysis of other relevant gene expression and gene regulatory network data also underscored the involvement of transcription pathways and identified JUNB and JUND (components of transcription factor AP-1) as transcription regulators of the network involving the TTD genes, GTF2E1, and selected gene regulators implicated in preeclampsia.


Our results indicate that TTD NER/transcription genes are expressed in placenta during gestational periods critical to preeclampsia development. Our overall findings suggest that impairment of TFIIH-mediated function in transcription in placenta is a likely mechanism leading to preeclampsia and provide etiologic clues which may be translated into therapeutic and preventive measures.