What can comparative studies of placental structure tell us?--A review

Placenta. 2004 Apr:25 Suppl A:S3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2004.01.011.


The diversity of placental structures in Eutherian mammals is such that drawing generalizations from the definitive forms is problematic. There are always areas of reduced interhaemal distance whether the placenta is epitheliochorial, synepitheliochorial, endotheliochorial or haemochorial. However, the thinning may be achieved by different means. The presence of a haemophagous area as an iron transport facilitator is generally associated with endotheliochorial placentae but is also found in sheep and goats (synepitheliochorial) and in tenrecs and hyaenas (haemochorial). Although similar chorioallantoic placentae are found within families, structure begins to diverge at the ordinal level and there is little correlation at the supraordinal level of phylogeny. Differences in formation and function of the yolk sac provide additional variation. There would appear to be considerable adaptive pressure for development or retention of the haemochorial type of chorioallantoic placenta. This type of placenta has several possible drawbacks including more ready passage of fetal cells to the maternal organism and, should the haemochorial condition be achieved early, oxidative stress. At any rate no animal larger than the human and gorilla has this type of placenta. The endotheliochorial condition is found in animals as large as the bears, manatee and elephants. In addition to the ungulates, the epitheliochorial condition is present in the largest animals with the longest gestation periods, the whales. Considering the length of time since the early stages of mammalian evolution, it is probable that few unmodified structural features are present in any currently surviving mammal. Nevertheless, more complete studies of divergent types of mammalian placenta should help our understanding of mammalian interrelationships as well as placental function.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammals / anatomy & histology*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Placenta / anatomy & histology*
  • Placenta / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Species Specificity