The human placenta maintains pregnancy and supports the developing fetus by providing nutrition, gas-waste exchange, hormonal regulation, and an immunological barrier from the maternal immune system. The villous syncytiotrophoblast carries most of these functions and provides the interface between the maternal and fetal circulatory systems. The syncytiotrophoblast is generated by the biochemical and morphological differentiation of underlying cytotrophoblast progenitor cells. The dysfunction of the villous trophoblast development is implicated in placenta-mediated pregnancy complications. Herein, we describe gene modules and clusters involved in the dynamic differentiation of villous cytotrophoblasts into the syncytiotrophoblast. During this process, the immune defense functions are first established, followed by structural and metabolic changes, and then by peptide hormone synthesis. We describe key transcription regulatory molecules that regulate gene modules involved in placental functions. Based on transcriptomic evidence, we infer how villous trophoblast differentiation and functions are dysregulated in preterm preeclampsia, a life-threatening placenta-mediated obstetrical syndrome for the mother and fetus. In the conclusion, we uncover the blueprint for villous trophoblast development and its impairment in preterm preeclampsia, which may aid in the future development of non-invasive biomarkers for placental functions and early identification of women at risk for preterm preeclampsia as well as other placenta-mediated pregnancy complications.
Keywords: development; immune tolerance; metabolism; microarray; omics; transcriptional network.