Probability distributions of placental morphological measurements and origins of variability of placental shapes

Placenta. 2013 Jun;34(6):493-6. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2013.03.003. Epub 2013 Apr 5.


Introduction: While the mean shape of human placenta is round with centrally inserted umbilical cord, significant deviations from this ideal are fairly common, and may be clinically meaningful. Traditionally, they are explained by trophotropism. We have proposed a hypothesis explaining typical variations in placental shape by randomly determined fluctuations in the growth process of the vascular tree. It has been recently reported that umbilical cord displacement in a birth cohort has a log-normal probability distribution, which indicates that the displacement between an initial point of origin and the centroid of the mature shape is a result of accumulation of random fluctuations of the dynamic growth of the placenta. To confirm this, we investigate statistical distributions of other features of placental morphology.

Methods: In a cohort of 1023 births at term digital photographs of placentas were recorded at delivery. Excluding cases with velamentous cord insertion, or missing clinical data left 1001 (97.8%) for which placental surface morphology features were measured. Best-fit statistical distributions for them were obtained using EasyFit.

Results and discussion: The best-fit distributions of umbilical cord displacement, placental disk diameter, area, perimeter, and maximal radius calculated from the cord insertion point are of heavy-tailed type, similar in shape to log-normal distributions. This is consistent with a stochastic origin of deviations of placental shape from normal.

Conclusions: Deviations of placental shape descriptors from average have heavy-tailed distributions similar in shape to log-normal. This evidence points away from trophotropism, and towards a spontaneous stochastic evolution of the variants of placental surface shape features.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Organ Size
  • Photography
  • Placenta / anatomy & histology*
  • Placenta / blood supply
  • Placentation
  • Pregnancy
  • Probability
  • Umbilical Cord / anatomy & histology