Objective: Our purpose was to describe placental lesions associated with normal and abnormal fetal growth in infants delivered for obstetric indications at < 32 weeks' gestation.
Study design: Maternal and neonatal charts and placental tissues from 420 consecutive nonanomalous live-born singleton infants delivered at < 32 weeks' gestation with accurate gestational dates were retrospectively studied. Excluded were cases with maternal diabetes, chronic hypertension, hydrops fetalis, diagnosed congenital viral infection, and placenta previa, leaving four primary indications for delivery: preeclampsia, preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes, and nonhypertensive abruptio placentae. The presence and severity of placental lesions was scored by a pathologist blinded to clinical data. Birth weight and length percentiles were calculated from published nomograms. Asymmetric intrauterine growth retardation (n = 32) was defined as birth weight < 10th percentile with length > 10th percentile and symmetric intrauterine growth retardation (n = 48) as both weight and length < 10th percentile for gestational age. A "growth restriction index" was developed to express a continuum of growth in both length and weight. Contingency tables, analyses of variance, and multiple regression analysis defined significance as p < 0.05 (with corrections for multiple comparisons).
Results: A greater proportion of cases with intrauterine growth retardation had lesions of uteroplacental insufficiency (p < 0.001) or chronic villitis (p < 0.02) than did appropriately grown preterm infants. Cases with asymmetric intrauterine growth retardation tended to have more lesions than did cases with appropriate-for-gestational-age infants. Four multiple regression analyses used the growth restriction index as outcome and the histologic lesion that had significant relationships to fetal growth as independent predictors in univariate analyses. Overall, uteroplacental fibrinoid necrosis, circulating nucleated erythrocytes, avascular terminal villi, and villous infarct were significant independent predictors of fetal growth (adjusted R2 = 0.312). With addition of preeclampsia as a variable, villous fibrosis, avascular villi, infarct, and preeclampsia were independent predictors of fetal growth (adjusted R2 = 0.341). In the 65 preeclampsia cases no histologic lesion was an independent predictor of fetal growth, whereas in the nonpreeclampsia cases, villous fibrosis and avascular villi were independent predictors of fetal growth (adjusted R2 = 0.075).
Conclusions: In nonanomalous preterm infants intrauterine growth retardation is most commonly symmetric and is primarily related to the cumulative number and severity of lesions reflecting abnormal uteroplacental or fetoplacental blood flow. The growth restriction index may contribute to the study of the biologic range of fetal growth. The statistical relationship of most placental lesions to intrauterine growth retardation depends on the presence or absence of preeclampsia.