Placental steroid hormone biosynthesis in primate pregnancy

Endocr Rev. 1990 Feb;11(1):124-50. doi: 10.1210/edrv-11-1-124.


Substantial advances in our understanding of placental function have resulted from recent establishment of in vitro approaches, such as cell culture, and application of molecular methods to study placental steroidogenesis. Insight into the processes of placental cell differentiation and hormonal function has been gained from culture of relatively pure preparations of cytotrophoblast. Various factors, e.g. cAMP and peptide growth factors, have been shown to have striking effects on progesterone and estrogen formation by placental tissue under in vitro conditions. Using advanced molecular approaches, the genes governing specific enzymes critical to placental steroidogenesis have been identified. Regulation of the mRNAs encoding specific enzyme peptides and thus expression of the genes by factors, such as cAMP, have been elucidated by Northern analysis and other techniques. It is critical that these contemporary approaches continue to be implemented aggressively to further elucidate placental function. However, it is clear from a survey of the literature, particularly of the past decade, that the vast majority of investigation in the area has been conducted in vitro. It is essential to determine whether the factors that have been observed to regulate placental endocrine function in vitro are operable in vivo. It is only with in vivo study that the dynamics of steroidogenesis and the complex functional relationships between placenta, fetus, and mother will be uncovered and understood. It is increasingly evident that the regulation of placental steroidogenesis involves autocrine and/or paracrine mechanisms, similar to those integral to hormone biosynthesis within other reproductive organs, e.g. ovary and testis. For example, as discussed above, estrogen regulates LDL uptake and P-450scc, and thus apparently is involved in generating substrate for progesterone production within the placenta. Conversely, progesterone has effects on 17 beta-hydroxysteroid oxidoreductase and thus the metabolism of estradiol, while androgens exert marked inhibitory effects on placental progesterone formation, at least in vitro. Not surprisingly, the regulation of placental progesterone and estrogen formation also is multifactorial. Thus, aromatase activity is stimulated synergistically by cAMP and phorbol esters, an effect that is suppressed by peptide growth factors. Therefore, the autocrine/paracrine and multifactorial regulation of hormone biosynthesis that has been relatively well documented in other tissues should be recognized as important in the primate placenta. Finally, the basic mechanisms underlying regulation of steroidogenesis within the fetoplacental unit during primate pregnancy appear similar, in important ways, to those of widely used laboratory animals, such as the rat and rabbit.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Culture Techniques
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis*
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Primates / metabolism*
  • Progesterone / biosynthesis*
  • Progesterone / physiology
  • Trophoblasts
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone