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J Anat. 2001 May;198(Pt 5):591-602.

The three-dimensional feto-maternal vascular interrelationship during early bovine placental development: a scanning electron microscopical study.

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Institute of Veterinary Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany.


Both the fetal and maternal microvasculature of bovine placentomes was examined by scanning electron microscopy of vascular casts. So far the development of the vascular architecture of the bovine placentome in early gestation has only been studied 2-dimensionally due to technical difficulties arising from the fragility of the early placental blood vessels. Repeated experiments led to the selection of the microvascular corrosion casts presented here. The vasculature of the maternal compartment is supplied by large caruncular stalk or spiral arteries, which release short maternal stem arteries. In the 3rd month of gestation, these arteries branch into several arterioles at their base, thus providing the vascular framework for the lower part of the septal walls of the primary crypts. In the 4th month, due to progressive longitudinal growth of the stem arteries, branching into arterioles occurs not only at the base, but over the whole length of the stem arteries. These arterioles supply the capillary complexes of the septa which resemble the major part of the septal vasculature and face the secondary crypts. Further indentation results in the formation of tertiary crypt capillary complexes, encircling the earlier secondary unit. From the 6th month of gestation the architecture resembles the fully developed maternal placenta with stem arteries running directly to the fetal side to branch into 4 to 6 arterioles, which turn back to enter secondary and tertiary septa. Maternal venules, collecting the blood from the capillary bed of secondary and tertiary septa, converge onto stem veins leaving the caruncle via branches of the uterine vein. The fetal part of the placentome is supplied by the cotyledonary arteries, which branch into fetal stem arteries that are the tributary to single villous trees. Over their whole course towards the maternal side, these give off arterioles entering secondary villi. The tertiary or terminal villous vasculature consists of capillaries, which are organised in serial capillary loops. This system is progressively elaborated in the course of gestation. In the 4th month there are only finger-like loops, whereas from the 6th month large fan-like structures can be observed. In early gestation the maternal and fetal blood vessels meet predominantly in a countercurrent fashion, changing to the less efficient crosscurrent exchange when the tertiary unit develops. These results indicate the development of a highly elaborated fetomaternal villous-crypt exchange system, already established in the 1st half of gestation, thus meeting the increasing needs of the fetus.

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