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Placenta. 2011 Mar;32 Suppl 2:S154-8. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2010.11.018. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

IFPA Gabor Than Award lecture: Transformation of the spiral arteries in human pregnancy: key events in the remodelling timeline.

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Maternal and Fetal Health Research Group, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


During human pregnancy, the uterine spiral arteries are progressively remodelled to form dilated conduits lacking maternal vasomotor control. This phenomenon ensures that a constant supply of blood is delivered to the materno-fetal interface at an optimal velocity for nutrient exchange. Conversion of a tonic maternal arteriole composed of multiple layers of vascular smooth muscle, elastin and numerous other extracellular matrix components, into a highly dilated yet durable vessel, requires tight regulatory control and the coordinated actions of multiple cell types. Initial disruption of the vascular wall, characterised by foci of endothelial cell loss, and separation and misalignment of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC), is coincident with an influx of uterine natural killer (uNK) cells and macrophages. uNK cells are a source of angiogenic growth factors and matrix degrading proteases, thus they possess the capacity to initiate changes in VSMC phenotype and instigate extracellular matrix catabolism. However, complete vascular cell loss, mediated in part by apoptosis and dedifferentiation, is only achieved following colonisation of the arteries by extravillous trophoblast (EVT). EVT produce a variety of chemokines, cytokines and matrix degrading proteases, enabling them to influence the fate of other cells within the placental bed and complete the remodelling process. The complex interplay of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions required for effective vascular transformation will be examined, with a particular focus on the role of (i) uNK cells and (ii) the enzyme matrix metalloproteinase-12 (MMP-12). Parallels with remodelling events occurring in other vascular beds will also be drawn.

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