Elastic fibres are an essential component of human placental stem villous stroma and an integrated part of the perivascular contractile sheath
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The stroma of human placental stem villi is believed to consist only of reticular and collagen fibres. In the present study we were able to show for the first time by light (orcein staining) and electron microscopy large amounts of elastic fibres in the stem villous stroma. Electron microscopically, homogeneous elastin was found alone or in association with microfibrils. In addition, microfibrils were observed forming long bands. These three structures, generally known to form elastic connective tissue, were seen in close connection with placental extravascular smooth muscle cells, which belong to the perivascular contractile sheath (PVCS) of stem villi. Elastin was associated with these smooth muscle cells and connected to collagen fibres via microfibrils. Collagen fibres were additionally interconnected by spike-like structures. Extravascular smooth muscle cells revealed numerous adhesion plaques which occupied conspicuously long cytoplasmic faces of the plasma membrane. In cryostat sections, immunoreactivity of talin, an attachment protein of adhesion plaques linking intracellular α-actin filaments with extracellular fibronectin, was detected in extravascular and vascular (media) smooth muscle cells. The arrangement of placental extravascular smooth muscle cells, elastic and collagen fibres suggests a functional myofibroelastic unit within the PVCS, which surrounds the large foetal blood vessels possibly contributing to elasticity and supporting tensile and/or contracting forces within the stem villi.
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