Postpartum erythrophagocytosis, iron storage and iron secretion in the endometrium of the tree shrew (Tupaia) during pregnancy

J Anat. 1994 Jun;184 ( Pt 3)(Pt 3):597-606.


Tree shrews (Tupaia belangeri) develop a bidiscoid endotheliochorial placenta. In addition, histiotrophe secreted by uterine glands is absorbed by the paraplacental trophoblast. Histiotrophe which is rich in iron is necessary for erythropoiesis in the young embryo. This report is part of a study of the accumulation and metabolism of iron in the endometrium of precisely dated pregnant Tupaia belangeri by application of electron spectroscopy and histochemistry. In the endometrium of tree shrews which had been pregnant at least once, iron-laden granules were present in macrophages and secreting cells of uterine glands. Iron accumulated in the endometrium shortly after parturition, when macrophages phagocytosed erythrocytes at small haematomas 0.2-0.5 mm in diameter. These haematomas arose during parturition after bleeding into the uterine stroma when the placental discs were detached. At 24 h after parturition the following structural consequences of the erythrolysosomal breakdown of phagocytosed erythrocytes could be observed: free cytosolic siderin granules, membrane-bound siderosomes, telolysosomes (some of which contained myelin figures or lipid droplets) and mixed telolysosomes (containing membranous stacks and siderin granules). During the lysosomal degradation of phagocytosed erythrocytes, iron was transferred from haemoglobin into a different macromolecular compound. Electron energy loss spectra detected from inside siderosomes indicated an iron-oxygen compound, and high-power bright field electron micrographs of siderosomes demonstrated the ultrastructural pattern characteristic of ferritin. At about d 12 of a new pregnancy, macrophages containing siderosomes closely approached the bases of secreting cells of endometrial glands. This strongly suggests that iron is transferred from the macrophages to the glandular cells. Within the glandular cells, iron-rich histiotrophe was synthesised and released into the glandular lumen. Within the uterine cavity this histiotrophe was absorbed by the omphalopleure. We suggest that among eutherians, postpartum erythrophagocytosis, the transfer of iron from macrophages to uterine glands, and the paraplacental uptake of iron, represent an ancestral mechanism of iron supply to the embryo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endometrium / cytology
  • Endometrium / metabolism
  • Endometrium / physiology*
  • Erythrocytes*
  • Estrus / metabolism
  • Female
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Labor, Obstetric / metabolism
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / physiology*
  • Tupaiidae / physiology*


  • Iron