Although vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), angiopoietin-1 (Ang-1) and Ang-2 have important roles in angiogenesis, very little is known about the regulation of these factors in the villous placenta during human pregnancy. In the present study, to investigate whether placental expression of Ang-1, Ang-2 and VEGF was altered in a cell-specific manner with advancing baboon gestation, the mRNA levels of these growth factors were determined by RT-PCR in cells isolated by Percoll gradient centrifugation from and protein localization assessed by immunocytochemistry in the villous placenta at early (day 60), mid (day 100) and late (day 170, term is 184 days) baboon gestation. Mean (+/-SE) Ang-1 mRNA levels, relative to 18S rRNA, in villous syncytiotrophoblast (3.92+/-0.68) and cytotrophoblast (1.31+/-0.31) cell fractions were highest on day 60 of gestation, then decreased by approximately 2.5-fold (P<0.05) to 1.39+/-0.29 and 0.49+/-0.07, respectively, on day 170. Moreover, Ang-1 mRNA levels in the villous stromal cells and Ang-2 mRNA levels in all placental villous cell fractions were similar on days 60, 100, and 170 of gestation. In contrast to Ang-1 and Ang-2, placental villous cytotrophoblast VEGF mRNA levels were increased 2.94-fold (P<0.05) between mid (0.67+/-0.15) and late (1.97+/-0.49) gestation. A corresponding decrease in Ang-1, absence of change in Ang-2, and increase in VEGF protein immunocytochemical expression were exhibited in placental trophoblast with advancing baboon pregnancy. Ang-1/Ang-2 and the angiopoietin Tie-2 receptor were expressed in vascular endothelial cells of the villous placenta, indicating that these blood vessel cells are a major site of ligand-receptor interaction for angiogenesis during primate pregnancy. We conclude that there is a cell-specific differential change in placental villous trophoblast expression of VEGF, Ang-1, and Ang-2 which we propose is important in regulating angiogenesis in the villous placenta during primate pregnancy.