The present investigation was undertaken in order to achieve a better understanding of the dynamics of placental villous differentiation. Villous trees from human placentas from different stages of pregnancy (first trimester to full term) were isolated and studied by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. For light microscopy the trees were serially sectioned and two-dimensionally reconstructed. For scanning electron microscopy complete villous trees or freeze-cracked villi were studied.
The most important finding was that the mesenchymal villi are continuously newly formed out of the trophoblastic sprouts throughout pregnancy. Because of this they exist in all stages of pregnancy and have to be considered the basis for growth and differentiation of the villous trees. In the first two trimesters they are the forerunners of the immature intermediate villi, whereas in the last trimester the mesenchymal villi are transformed into mature intermediate villi. The immature intermediate villi formed during the first two trimesters are developmental steps towards the stem villi. On the other hand, the mature intermediate villi, which only are developed during the last trimester, produce numerous terminal villi. The latter are not active outgrowths caused by proliferation of the trophoblast, but rather passive protrusions induced by capillary coiling due to excessive longitudinal growth of the fetal capillaries within the mature intermediate villi.