This study focuses on the gap junction expression pattern in trophoblast cells during human placental development in vivo and in vitro. Investigations of cell-cell communication properties within the subpopulations of trophoblast responsible for invasion, placental growth and feto-maternal transport seem of special interest because the intercellular channels are believed to coordinate proliferation and differentiation processes. From all gap junction connexins (Cx) investigated (Cx26, Cx31, Cx32, Cx37, Cx40, Cx43), Cx40 was the only connexin clearly detected within the cytotrophoblast of human placenta, and was restricted to the extravillous trophoblast of cell islands and cell columns. Most intense staining was found in the juxtastromal area correlated to the proliferating extravillous trophoblast cells. Connexin protein expression was missing during trophoblast migration into the decidua but was re-expressed in trophoblast aggregates within the decidua. Cx40 expression decreased with progressing pregnancy and no connexins could be detected in villous or extravillous trophoblast of mature placentae. In parallel, isolated trophoblast cells of first and second trimester placentae revealed Cx40 expression and, in contrast to the situation in vivo, Cx43 was also found. In isolated cells of mature placentae, expression of both Cx40 and Cx43 transcripts was decreased to low levels and Cx40 immunoreactivity was absent. Cx43 protein, however, was still detectable in trophoblast cultures of term placentae. Our studies suggest that Cx40 is the characteristic channel for the proliferating cell population of cell islands and cell columns of first and second trimester placentae and isolated trophoblast and is probably involved in regulation and coordination of the invasive pathway.
Copyright 1999 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.