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Placenta. 2010 Jun;31(6):465-74. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Mar 31.

Cellular and molecular regulation of spiral artery remodelling: lessons from the cardiovascular field.

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  • 1Developmental and Endocrine Signalling Centre, Division of Basic Medical Sciences, St. George's, University of London, London, UK.


A number of important changes take place in the maternal uterine vasculature during the first few weeks of pregnancy resulting in increased blood flow to the intervillous space. Vascular endothelial and smooth muscle cells are lost from the spiral arteries and are replaced by fetal trophoblast cells. Failure of the vessels to remodel sufficiently is a common feature of pregnancy pathologies such as early pregnancy loss, intrauterine growth restriction and pre-eclampsia. There is evidence to suggest that some vascular changes occur prior to trophoblast invasion, however, in the absence of trophoblasts remodelling of the spiral arteries is reduced. Until recently our knowledge of these events has been obtained from immunohistochemical studies which, although extremely useful, can give little insight into the mechanisms involved. With the development of more complex in vitro models a picture of events at a cellular and molecular level is beginning to emerge, although some caution is required in extrapolating to the in vivo situation. Trophoblasts synthesise and release a plethora of cytokines and growth factors including members of the tumour necrosis factor family. Studies suggest that these factors may be important in regulating the remodelling process by inducing both endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cell apoptosis. In addition, it is evident from studies in other vascular beds that the structure of the vessel is influenced by factors such as flow, changes in the composition of the extracellular matrix, the phenotype of the vascular cells and the local immune cell environment. It is the aim of this review to present our current knowledge of the mechanisms involved in spiral artery remodelling and explore other possible pathways and cellular interactions that may be involved, informed by studies in the cardiovascular field.

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