Sulphate is an obligate nutrient for healthy growth and development. Sulphate conjugation (sulphonation) of proteoglycans maintains the structure and function of tissues. Sulphonation also regulates the bioactivity of steroids, thyroid hormone, bile acids, catecholamines and cholecystokinin, and detoxifies certain xenobiotics and pharmacological drugs. In adults and children, sulphate is obtained from the diet and from the intracellular metabolism of sulphur-containing amino acids. Dietary sulphate intake can vary greatly and is dependent on the type of food consumed and source of drinking water. Once ingested, sulphate is absorbed into circulation where its level is maintained at approximately 300 μmol/L, making sulphate the fourth most abundant anion in plasma. In pregnant women, circulating sulphate concentrations increase by twofold with levels peaking in late gestation. This increased sulphataemia, which is mediated by up-regulation of sulphate reabsorption in the maternal kidneys, provides a reservoir of sulphate to meet the gestational needs of the developing foetus. The foetus has negligible capacity to generate sulphate and thereby, is completely reliant on sulphate supply from the maternal circulation. Maternal hyposulphataemia leads to foetal sulphate deficiency and late gestational foetal death in mice. In humans, reduced sulphonation capacity has been linked to skeletal dysplasias, ranging from the mildest form, multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, to achondrogenesis Type IB, which results in severe skeletal underdevelopment and death in utero
or shortly after birth. Despite being essential for numerous cellular and metabolic functions, the nutrient sulphate is largely unappreciated in clinical settings. This article will review the physiological roles and regulation of sulphate during pregnancy, with a particular focus on animal models of disturbed sulphate homeostasis and links to human pathophysiology.
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