Placental Vascular Morphogenesis: Introduction and Overview

  • D. Stephen Charnock-Jones
  • Stephen K. Smith
Part of the Cardiovascular Molecular Morphogenesis book series (CARDMM)


While it is self-evident that the placenta is essential for the mammalian reproductive process, historically its role has been confused. The precise architectural arrangement of the blood vessels has been a matter of dispute, and this in part can be explained by the diversity of structures observed in common domestic, laboratory, and wild species (for a review of this subject area, see Kaufmann and Burton, 1994). However, by the beginning of the last century it had been established that the placenta served as an organ for fetal nutrition, respiration, and as an endocrine organ. All of the different placental types show specialized adaptations to facilitate exchange between the fetal and maternal circulatory systems. Both the human and murine placentae are of the hemochorial type, and although there are marked differences between them, knockout and transgenic studies in the mouse have been extremely informative. It is a reasonable assumption that the requirements for exchange play the most significant role in determining placental morphology, and therefore the adaptations of the fetal vasculature to facilitate this process are fundamental. In a range of species as gestation advances and fetal demand increases, the capacity of the placenta for exchange increases. In the human, there is a continual elaboration of the principal functional units of the placenta, the terminal villi, and a progressive reduction in the mean thickness of the villous membrane separating the two circulations. These changes, and the changes seen in other species, are dependent on continued angiogenesis, and therefore placental angiogenesis is central for the success of pregnancy.


Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor Human Placenta Trophoblast Cell Extravillous Trophoblast 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Stephen Charnock-Jones
  • Stephen K. Smith

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