STEREOLOGICAL STUDIES ON FETAL VASCULAR DEVELOPMENT IN HUMAN PLACENTAL VILLI

Terry M Mayhew

Abstract

In human pregnancy, fetal well-being depends on the development of placental villi and the creation and maintenance of fetal microvessels within them. The aim of this study was to define stereological measures of the growth, capillarization and maturation of villi and of fetoplacental angiogenesis and capillary remodelling. Placentas were collected at 12-41 weeks of gestation and assigned to six age groups spanning equal age ranges. Tissue samples were randomised for position and orientation. Overall growth of peripheral (intermediate and terminal) villi and their capillaries was evaluated using total volumes, surface areas and lengths. Measures of villous capillarization comprised capillary volume, surface and length densities and capillary:villus surface and length ratios. Size and shape remodelling of villi and capillaries was assessed using mean cross-sectional areas, perimeters and shape coefficients (perimeter2/area). Group comparisons were drawn by analysis of variance. Villous and capillary volumes, surfaces and lengths increased significantly throughout gestation. Villous maturation involved phasic (capillary:villus surface and length ratios) or progressive (volume, surface and length densities) increases in indices of villous capillarization. It also involved isomorphic thinning (cross-sectional areas and perimeters declined but shape coefficients did not alter). In contrast, growth of capillaries did not involve changes in luminal areas or perimeters. The results show that villous growth and fetal angiogenesis involve increases in overall length rather than calibre and that villous differentiation involves increased capillarization. Although they do not distinguish between increases in the lengths versus numbers of capillary segments, other studies have shown that capillaries switch from branching to non-branching angiogenesis during gestation. Combined with maintenance of capillary calibres, these processes will contribute to the reduced fetal vascular impedances observed during pregnancy.

Keywords
angiogenesis; capillary remodelling; fetal capillaries; placenta; villi; villous capillarization

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DOI: 10.5566/ias.v22.p49-56

Image Analysis & Stereology
EISSN 1854-5165 (Electronic version)
ISSN 1580-3139 (Printed version)