The fetal demand for FFA increases as gestation proceeds, and LPL represents one potential mechanism for increasing placental lipid transport. We examined LPL activity and protein expression in first trimester and term human placenta. The LPL activity was 3-fold higher in term (n = 7; P < 0.05) compared with first trimester (n = 6) placentas. The LPL expression appeared lower in microvillous membrane from first trimester (n = 2) compared with term (n = 2) placentas. We incubated isolated placental villous fragments with a variety of effectors [GW 1929, estradiol, insulin, cortisol, epinephrine, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha] for 1, 3, and 24 h to investigate potential regulatory mechanisms. Decreased LPL activity was observed after 24 h of incubation with estradiol (1 micro g/ml), insulin, cortisol, and IGF-1 (n = 12; P < 0.05). We observed an increase in LPL activity after 3 h of incubation with estradiol (20 ng/ml) or hyperglycemic medium plus insulin (n = 7; P < 0.05). To conclude, we suggest that the gestational increase in placental LPL activity represents an important mechanism to enhance placental FFA transport in late pregnancy. Hormonal regulation of placental LPL activity by insulin, cortisol, IGF-1, and estradiol may be involved in gestational changes and in alterations in LPL activity in pregnancies complicated by altered fetal growth.