Mammalian cells require cholesterol as a structural component of plasma membranes. It is also required for placental steroid synthesis. De novo synthesis of cholesterol is limited in human placenta and cholesterol is obtained mainly from plasma low density lipoprotein (LDL). Cholesterol delivery from LDL is mediated by receptor-mediated uptake and the receptor amount is the most important factor for cellular delivery. Thus, the regulation of receptor synthesis is important for placental development and function. Since the regulation of LDL receptor gene expression has not been studied in human placenta, LDL receptor mRNA was measured in placentae of 5-40 weeks of gestation by hybridization of RNA with 32P-labeled cDNA for human LDL receptor. Two mRNA species for LDL receptor were demonstrated by Northern blot analysis. The longer mRNA [5.3 kilobases (kb)] was much more abundant than the shorter mRNA (3.7 kb). The amount of 5.3 kb mRNA was highest early in gestation and decreased during pregnancy. However, the amount of 3.7 kb mRNA did not change appreciably during gestation. Dot blot analysis of 26 placental mRNAs obtained from various stages of gestation revealed a negative correlation between LDL receptor mRNA and gestation (r = -0.76, P less than 0.001). Considering the rapid growth of the trophoblast during gestation, especially in the first and the second trimester, increased expression of the LDL receptor gene and subsequent translation are expected for efficient cholesterol uptake to provide a sufficient substrate for cell growth. Possible mechanisms for the appearance of two mRNA species for LDL receptor are also discussed.