Analytical theory of oxygen transport in the human placenta

J Theor Biol. 2015 Mar 7;368:133-44. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2014.12.016. Epub 2015 Jan 8.


We propose an analytical approach to solving the diffusion-convection equations governing oxygen transport in the human placenta. We show that only two geometrical characteristics of a placental cross-section, villi density and the effective villi radius, are needed to predict fetal oxygen uptake. We also identify two combinations of physiological parameters that determine oxygen uptake in a given placenta: (i) the maximal oxygen inflow of a placentone if there were no tissue blocking the flow and (ii) the ratio of transit time of maternal blood through the intervillous space to oxygen extraction time. We derive analytical formulas for fast and simple calculation of oxygen uptake and provide two diagrams of efficiency of oxygen transport in an arbitrary placental cross-section. We finally show that artificial perfusion experiments with no-hemoglobin blood tend to give a two-orders-of-magnitude underestimation of the in vivo oxygen uptake and that the optimal geometry for such setup alters significantly. The theory allows one to adjust the results of artificial placenta perfusion experiments to account for oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation. Combined with image analysis techniques, the presented model can give an easy-to-use tool for prediction of the human placenta efficiency.

Keywords: Diffusion–convection; Optimal villi density; Oxygen exchange efficiency; Pathology diagnostics; Stream-tube placenta model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Diffusion
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Placenta / blood supply
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placental Circulation / physiology
  • Pregnancy