We used scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to describe the complete ontogeny of simple placentation and the development of both the yolk sac placentae and chorioallantoic placentae from nonreproductive through postparturition phases in the maternal uterine epithelium of the Australian skink, Eulamprus tympanum. We chose E. tympanum, a species with a simple, noninvasive placenta, and which we know, has little net nutrient uptake during gestation to develop hypotheses about placental function and to identify any difference between the oviparous and viviparous conditions. Placental differentiation into the chorioallantoic placenta and yolk sac placenta occurs from embryonic Stage 29; both placentae are simple structures without specialized features for materno/fetal connection. The uterine epithelial cells are not squamous as previously described by Claire Weekes, but are columnar, becoming increasingly attenuated because of the pressure of the impinging underlying capillaries as gestation progresses. When the females are nonreproductive, the luminal uterine surface is flat and the microvillous cells that contain electrondense vesicles partly obscure the ciliated cells. As vitellogenesis progresses, the microvillous cells are less hypertrophied than in nonreproductive females. After ovulation and fertilization, there is no regional differentiation of the uterine epithelium around the circumference of the egg. The first differentiation, associated with the chorioallantoic placentae and yolk sac placentae, occurs at embryonic Stage 29 and continues through to Stage 39. As gestation proceeds, the uterine chorioallantoic placenta forms ridges, the microvillous cells become less hypertrophied, ciliated cells are less abundant, the underlying blood vessels increase in size, and the gland openings at the uterine surface are more apparent. In contrast, the yolk sac placenta has no particular folding with cells having a random orientation and where the microvillous cells remain hypertrophied throughout gestation. However, the ciliated cells become less abundant as gestation proceeds, as also seen in the chorioallantoic placenta. Secretory vesicles are visible in the uterine lumen. All placental differentiation and cell detail is lost at Stage 40, and the uterine structure has returned to the nonreproductive condition within 2 weeks. Circulating progesterone concentrations begin to rise during late vitellogenesis, peak at embryonic Stages 28-30, and decline after Stage 35 in the later stages of gestation. The coincidence between the time of oviposition and placental differentiation demonstrates a similarity during gestation in the uterus between oviparous and simple placental viviparous squamates. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
- Placental morphology
- Plasma membrane transformation
- Scanning electron microscopy
- Uterine epithelium