Differential techniques have revealed several novel genes and peptides involved in trophoblast development including PL74/gdf15/MIC-1, a TGFbeta family cytokine that controls apoptosis and differentiation, PL48, a new serine-threonine protein kinase, serum and glucocorticoid-induced kinase, PBK-1, a tunicamycin-responsive gene, a cathepsin D-like gene (DAP-1) and hypoxia- regulated genes HRF-1,2,6,8 and HIF-1alpha, HIF-1beta, and hEPAS-1. Syncytin, a cell fusion- inducing gene, has been cloned from placenta where it regulates cell fusion. ERV-3 has also been demonstrated to promote cell fusion. These two genes represent the first demonstrated functions of endogenous retroviral sequences in human tissues. Endoglin, PlGF, TGFbeta3, IGF-II, IGFBP-1, and a placental IGFBP protease have found new roles in regulating cytotrophoblast proliferation and invasiveness. A specific placental p105 rasGAP protein has been identified. The homeobox genes DLX4, HB24, MSX2 and MOX2 also likely play a role in development at the epithelial-mesenchymal boundary. Transcription factors such as TEF-5, Hand1, HEB, HASH-2 and two genes represented by ESTs may have regulatory roles in placental development. Evidence suggests that the placenta has an unusual two-cell system for apoptosis regulation in which the cytotrophoblast may direct later apoptotic events in the syncytium, and with syncytialization possibly triggered by the "phosphatidylserine flip". Thus, the placenta is both a rich source of new growth-regulatory substances, and a model system for originating new paradigms of developmental biology.