Placental calcification: a metastatic process?

Placenta. 2001 Jul;22(6):591-6. doi: 10.1053/plac.2001.0688.


Placental calcification commonly increases with gestational age. The mechanism of apatite mineralization probably involves one of three known mechanisms of tissue calcification: physiological (like bone), dystrophic (ischaemia-related) or metastatic (mineralization in a supersaturated environment). This study was designed to determine the mechanism of calcification by examining (1) the mineral content of placental calcifications in comparison to other physiological and pathological apatites, and (2) the expression of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), which are important in physiological calcification, across gestational age. By energy-dispersive x-ray analysis (EDXA), the Ca/P weight ratio for apatitic mineral from mature calcifications was 2.00+/-0.05 (s.e.), which is similar to that for stones formed in a metastatic, supersaturated environment and lower than that observed in physiological calcification. Biologically active BMP, which was determined by bioassay, was demonstrated in mature and postmature placentae. The BMPs PLAB, PDF and related protein INSL-4 were identified by semiquantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), but their mRNA expression was independent of gestational age (7-41 weeks of gestation). We conclude that (1) the identified BMPs were not related directly to placental calcification, which argues against physiological calcification, and (2) the chemical composition of the apatitic mineral was suggestive of rapid formation in a supersaturated environment, which is consistent with a metastatic mechanism of calcification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Assay
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / analysis
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / genetics
  • Calcinosis / etiology
  • Calcinosis / metabolism*
  • Calcium / analysis
  • Electron Probe Microanalysis
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Minerals / analysis
  • Phosphorus / analysis
  • Placenta / chemistry*
  • Placenta Diseases / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Prolonged
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Minerals
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium