The promise of placental extracellular vesicles: models and challenges for diagnosing placental dysfunction in utero†

Biol Reprod. 2021 Jan 4;104(1):27-57. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioaa152.


Monitoring the health of a pregnancy is of utmost importance to both the fetus and the mother. The diagnosis of pregnancy complications typically occurs after the manifestation of symptoms, and limited preventative measures or effective treatments are available. Traditionally, pregnancy health is evaluated by analyzing maternal serum hormone levels, genetic testing, ultrasonographic imaging, and monitoring maternal symptoms. However, researchers have reported a difference in extracellular vesicle (EV) quantity and cargo between healthy and at-risk pregnancies. Thus, placental EVs (PEVs) may help to understand normal and aberrant placental development, monitor pregnancy health in terms of developing placental pathologies, and assess the impact of environmental influences, such as infection, on pregnancy. The diagnostic potential of PEVs could allow for earlier detection of pregnancy complications via noninvasive sampling and frequent monitoring. Understanding how PEVs serve as a means of communication with maternal cells and recognizing their potential utility as a readout of placental health have sparked a growing interest in basic and translational research. However, to date, PEV research with animal models lags behind human studies. The strength of animal pregnancy models is that they can be used to assess placental pathologies in conjunction with isolation of PEVs from fluid samples at different time points throughout gestation. Assessing PEV cargo in animals within normal and complicated pregnancies will accelerate the translation of PEV analysis into the clinic for potential use in prognostics. We propose that appropriate animal models of human pregnancy complications must be established in the PEV field.

Keywords: adverse pregnancy outcomes; animal models; exosome; extracellular vesicle; placenta.