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Placenta. 2013 Feb;34(2):106-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2012.11.011. Epub 2012 Dec 2.

Pericellular oxygen concentration of cultured primary human trophoblasts.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.



Oxygen is pivotal in placental development and function. In vitro culture of human trophoblasts provides a useful model to study this phenomenon, but a hotly debated issue is whether or not the oxygen tension of the culture conditions mimics in vivo conditions. We tested the hypothesis that ambient oxygen tensions in culture reflect the pericellular oxygen levels.


We used a microelectrode oxygen sensor to measure the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the culture medium equilibrated with 21%, 8% or <0.5% oxygen.


The concentration of oxygen in medium without cells resembled that in the ambient atmosphere. The oxygen concentration present in medium bathing trophoblasts was remarkably dependent on the depth within the medium where sampling occurred, and the oxygen concentration within the overlying atmosphere was not reflected in medium immediately adjacent to the cells. Indeed, the pericellular oxygen concentration was in a range that most would consider severe hypoxia, at ≤0.6% oxygen or about 4.6 mm Hg, when the overlying atmosphere was 21% oxygen.


We conclude that culture conditions of 21% oxygen are unable to replicate the pO(2) of 40-60 mm Hg commonly attributed to the maternal blood in the intervillous space in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. We further surmise that oxygen atmospheres in culture conditions between 0.5% and 21% provide different oxygen fluxes in the immediate pericellular environment yet can still yield insights into the responses of human trophoblast to different oxygen conditions.

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