The human fetoplacental vasculature is a low-resistance circulation with deoxygenated arterial relative to venous blood. The placenta lacks neuronal innervation suggesting that local physical (e.g., oxygenation; flow rate), paracrine (e.g., endothelial cell nitric oxide), and circulating (e.g., angiotensin II) factors will contribute to blood flow regulation in small fetoplacental vessels. Oxygenation (specifically hypoxia) has received particular attention. At the macro-level, hypoxic challenge increases vascular resistance, but the data's physiological relevance remains questionable. K(+) channels are a diverse family of proteins known to play important roles in the normal physiological functions of endothelial and smooth muscle cells of a variety of vascular beds. K(+) channels are categorized by their predicted transmembrane structure or gating properties. A small number of perfused placental cotyledon and isolated blood vessels studies have assessed K(+) channel activity. Specific activator/inhibitor application suggests functional voltage-gated channels, whereas toxin inhibitor studies have documented KCa channel activity. Pharmacological KATP channel activation significantly dilates preconstricted placental arteries and veins. There is a paucity of cell subtype-specific expression studies of placental K(+) channels. This review focuses on the roles of K(+) channels and oxygenation in controlling reactivity of small fetoplacental blood vessels.
Keywords: human; oxygenation; placenta; potassium channel.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.