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Placenta. 2003 Jul;24(6):598-617.

Placentation in the African elephant (Loxodonta africana): II morphological changes in the uterus and placenta throughout gestation.

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Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine Equine Fertility Unit, University of Cambridge, Mertoun Paddocks,Woodditton Road, Suffolk CB8 9BH, Newmarket, UK.


The gross and microscopic development of the zonary endotheliochorial placenta in the African elephant was studied in 22 gravid uteri that ranged in gestational stage from 0.5 to 20.6 months. The conceptus only ever occupies one horn of the uterus and is associated with 2-5 large corpora lutea that persist in the ipsilateral ovary throughout gestation. Initially, the trophoblast in the equatorial region of the conceptus completely replaces the lumenal epithelium of the endometrium to which it is apposed. Blunt upgrowths of endometrial stroma then develop, each closely invested by trophoblast, and containing the capillaries that will vascularize this maternal component of the resulting placental band. With advancing gestation the lamellate stromal upgrowths increase markedly in length and become much thinner, thereby bringing the trophoblast into intimate contact with the endothelium of the maternal capillaries. They also become folded or pleated to increase the total area of intimate feto-maternal contact. At the lateral edges of the placental band the lamellae bend over towards the endometrium to form a blind cleft. Leakage of blood into this area creates haemophagous zones in which phenotypically specialized trophoblast cells phagocytose the blood components. The presence of large resorbing blood clots and circumferential scars in the uteri of three post parturient animals initiated the hypothesis that, when the standing elephant gives birth at term, the passage of the 120 kg fetus through the vagina may wrench the placenta off the endometrium by severing its very narrow maternal placental hilus. The resulting intrauterine haemorrhage may then play a role in preventing further conception for around 2 years.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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