Comparative placental structure

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 1999 Jun 14;38(1):3-15. doi: 10.1016/s0169-409x(99)00003-4.


The primary function of all placentas is to act as an interface between the mother and fetus that allows, and even promotes, appropriate metabolic exchanges. This function is accomplished by bringing maternal and fetal blood into close apposition while maintaining separation of the maternal and fetal circulatory systems. Despite the common physiological functions shared by placentas, however, examination of placental morphology from different animal groups reveals a remarkable diversity of species-specific structural organization.The separation of fetal and maternal blood is always maintained by an elaboration of extraembryonic fetal tissues that cover fetal blood vessels. In some species the outermost layer of this fetal tissue, the trophoblast, is in direct contact with maternal blood. In many other species uterine tissues also contribute to the selective barrier separating the two blood systems. In addition to morphological variation among placentas of different animal groups, placentas undergo substantial structural modifications during pregnancy in a single species. In some animals different types of placentas function successively, or concurrently during a single pregnancy.As a result of these myriad details of placental structure, effective evaluation of fetal-maternal transfer of drugs must consider not only the components of the interhemal barrier of the fully developed placenta characteristic for each species, but also the placental structures functioning at each gestational stage of the fetus.