Background: The aim of this study was to investigate normal chorionic villous vascularization using CD31 immunofluorescence and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) to elucidate the spatial arrangement in terms of connections between vessels and cords and their branching patterns compared to deficient chorionic villous vascularization in complicated pregnancies.
Methods: A descriptive morphologic study using CLSM after CD31 immunofluorescence staining of placental biopsies from normal pregnancies (n = 20), complete hydatidiform molar pregnancies (CHMs; n = 3) and empty sacs (n = 3), with a well documented gestational age (GA).
Results: In this three-dimensional study, first trimester chorionic villi were occupied by a complex network of mainly cords with redundant connections as early as 5(+5) weeks GA. With increasing GA cords transform into vessels. From about 9 weeks GA onwards, vascular development is characterized by the presence of two large vessels located centrally and surrounded by and connected to a capillary network. In first trimester CHM and empty sacs, we observed a primitive network of mainly cords.
Conclusions: This first visualization of the spatio-temporal patterns of blood vessel formation in placental villi is characterized by the development of the vasculosyncytial membrane from a complex network of cords and can be regarded as the placental development before it becomes functional at the end of organogenesis.