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Theriogenology. 2008 Jan 1;69(1):55-67. Epub 2007 Nov 5.

The pregnant sheep as a model for human pregnancy.

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  • 1Perinatal Research Facility, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Aurora, CO 80045-0508, USA.


Successful outcome of human pregnancy not only impacts the quality of infant life and well-being, but considerable evidence now suggests that what happens during fetal development may well impact health and well-being into adulthood. Consequently, a thorough understanding of the developmental events that occur between conception and delivery is needed. For obvious ethical reasons, many of the questions remaining about the progression of human pregnancy cannot be answered directly, necessitating the use of appropriate animal models. A variety of animal models exist for the study of both normal and compromised pregnancies, including laboratory rodents, non-human primates and domestic ruminants. While all of these animal models have merit, most suffer from the inability to repetitively sample from both the maternal and fetal side of the placenta, limiting their usefulness in the study of placental or fetal physiology under non-stressed in vivo conditions. No animal model truly recapitulates human pregnancy, yet the pregnant sheep has been used extensively to investigate maternal-fetal interactions. This is due in part to the ability to surgically place and maintain catheters in both the maternal and fetal vasculature, allowing repeated sampling from non-anesthetized pregnancies. Considerable insight has been gained on placental oxygen and nutrient transfer and utilization from use of pregnant sheep. These findings were often confirmed in human pregnancies once appropriate technologies became available. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of human and sheep pregnancy, with emphasis placed on placental development and function as an organ of nutrient transfer.

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