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Micron. 1995;26(2):145-73.

Ultrastructure of the materno-embryonic interface in the first trimester of pregnancy.

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Department of Pathological Sciences, University of Manchester, U.K.


During early pregnancy, the absence of fully developed internal organs means that the embryo is dependent on highly differentiated adnexal structures such as the secondary yolk sac and free-floating amniotic membrane as well as the placental trophoblast. In this review, we describe and illustrate the ultrastructural characteristics of these different cellular barriers which separate maternal and embryonic tissues during the first trimester of pregnancy. Samples of chorionic plate, umbilical cord, secondary yolk sac and amniotic membrane have been obtained from intact gestational sacs of pregnancies between 6 and 11 weeks and examined at the ultrastructural level. Features indicating intense biosynthetic activity were found in the syncytiotrophoblast of the chorionic plate, the endoderm of the secondary yolk sac and mesenchymal cells of the amniotic membrane. Barriers in the form of a well-developed basal lamina were present between the trophoblast and mesenchyme of the chorionic plate and beneath the epithelium of the amniotic membrane and umbilical cord, but were incomplete between the mesenchymal tissues of the yolk sac and mesothelial and endodermal layers, and also around the capillaries of the chorionic plate. Basement membrane thickening and interactions with the underlying stroma were observed with increasing gestational age in connection with amniotic epithelial differentiation and development of basal foot processes. After 9 weeks, the yolk sac showed a marked degeneration of surface cells, accompanied by increased fibrosis of the mesenchyme. These findings are discussed with reference to the biological functions of the adnexal structures in the development of the growing embryo, and their possible role is assessed in the physiology of exchange during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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