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J Anat. 2009 Jul;215(1):21-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2008.01039.x. Epub 2009 Feb 9.

Trophoblast-mediated spiral artery remodelling: a role for apoptosis.

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Centre for Developmental and Endocrine Signalling, Division of Basic Medical Sciences, St George's University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London, UK.


In the first 20 weeks of pregnancy a number of important changes take place in the maternal uterine vasculature. Vascular endothelial and smooth muscle cells are lost from the spiral arteries and are replaced by fetal trophoblast cells. The resulting increase in blood flow to the intervillous space ensures that the fetus receives the nutrients and respiratory gases required for growth. 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. Although there is evidence to suggest that some vascular changes occur prior to trophoblast invasion, it is clear that in the absence of trophoblast invasion the remodelling of the spiral arteries is reduced. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which trophoblasts influence vessel structure have been little studied. Trophoblasts synthesize and release a plethora of cytokines and growth factors including members of the tumour necrosis factor family such as tumour necrosis factor alpha, Fas-ligand and tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand. Recent studies suggest that these factors may be important in regulating the remodelling process by inducing both endothelial cell and vascular smooth muscle cell apoptosis.

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