Tracking placental development in health and disease

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction arise from disorders of placental development and have some shared mechanistic features. Initiation is often rooted in the maldevelopment of a maternal–placental blood supply capable of providing for the growth requirements of the fetus in later pregnancy, without exerting undue stress on maternal body systems. Here, we review normal development of a placental bed with a safe and adequate blood supply and a villous placenta–blood interface from which nutrients and oxygen can be extracted for the growing fetus. We consider disease mechanisms that are intrinsic to the maternal environment, the placenta or the interaction between the two. Systemic signalling from the endocrine placenta targets the maternal endothelium and multiple organs to adjust metabolism for an optimal pregnancy and later lactation. This signalling capacity is skewed when placental damage occurs and can deliver a dangerous pathogenic stimulus. We discuss the placental secretome including glycoproteins, microRNAs and extracellular vesicles as potential biomarkers of disease. Angiomodulatory mediators, currently the only effective biomarkers, are discussed alongside non-invasive imaging approaches to the prediction of disease risk. Identifying the signs of impending pathology early enough to intervene and ameliorate disease in later pregnancy remains a complex and challenging objective.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Reviews Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2020


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