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Traffic. 2004 Oct;5(10):725-38.

Endocytic and transcytotic processes in villous syncytiotrophoblast: role in nutrient transport to the human fetus.

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Center for Physiology and Pathophysiology, Medical University of Vienna, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


The supply of nutrients to the developing fetus is a major function of the human hemochorial placenta, a placenta type in which the fetal chorion is in direct contact with the maternal blood. At term, nutrients have to be transported across two cell layers in chorionic villi, the syncytiotrophoblast (STB) and fetal endothelial cells. The STB is a continuous syncytium covering the entire surface of chorionic villi. This polarized epithelium is specialized in exchange processes and membrane trafficking between the apical membrane facing the maternal blood and the basal membrane facing the fetal endothelium. To meet placental and fetal requirements, the STB selectively takes up and transports a variety of nutrients, hormones, growth factors and cytokines and also transfers passive immunity to the fetus by receptor-mediated transcytosis. In this review in vivo and in vitro systems currently used to study STB functions are discussed and the potential mechanisms of transplacental IgG, iron, lipoprotein and glucose transport are presented. As revealed in this article, the placenta is a tissue where intensive cell biological research is required to unravel endocytic trafficking pathways in a highly specialized cell such as the STB.

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