Placental Functional Morphology

  • Graham J. Burton
Part of the Cardiovascular Molecular Morphogenesis book series (CARDMM)


The placenta performs a remarkable variety of functions, acting as the fetal lung, liver, and kidneys in addition to serving as a physical and immunologic barrier separating the maternal and fetal circulations. Each of these different functions places its own special demands on the structure of the organ, some of which are potentially in conflict. However, it is a reasonable assumption that the requirements for diffusional exchange play the most significant role in determining placental morphology. The rate of diffusion of a gas across a membrane is governed by the Fick equation, and so the structural determinants are the surface area available for exchange and the thickness of the membrane. As gestation advances 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. Both these changes facilitate gaseous exchange, and are dependent on continued angiogenesis within the villi.


Human Placenta Fetal Circulation Term Placenta Villous Tree Intervillous Space 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

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  • Graham J. Burton

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