Summary. In the ruminant placenta 15–20% of the trophectodermal epithelium consists of granulated binucleate cells (BNC). In the sheep the granules contain ovine placental lactogen (oPL). These cells migrate from the trophectoderm to form fetomaternal hybrid tissue from implantation to term.
The number of BNC, their percentage migration and the potential secretory activity of the syncytium they form were estimated by semiquantitative transmission electron-microscopical techniques after several surgical techniques and hormone or drug infusions.
BNC numbers decrease normally just before parturition, and this fall could be eliminated by fetal hypophysectomy or induced early by administration of tetracosactrin to intact or hypophysectomized fetuses. If only one twin was treated with tetracosactrin the placenta of the untreated twin did not show the fall in BNC numbers found in the other unless it died in utero some time before sampling. This indicates fetal control of BNC number and migration.
However, fetal catheterization, hypophysectomy, stalk section, adrenalectomy, infusion of mouse epidermal growth factor or bromocriptine had little or no effect on binucleate cell numbers or migration percentages. Maternal carunclectomy, ovariectomy, or epostane or bromocriptine administration also had no consistent significant effect.
Previous reports of degeneration of BNC structure plus a decrease in their number (with bromocriptine) or an increase in migration frequency (after adrenalectomy or stalk section) have not been confirmed by this study. The BNC migration delivers the oPL-containing BNC granules close to the maternal circulation but the variation in migration seems only loosely correlated with the reported maternal oPL concentrations.
The results indicate that BNC migration is independent of the hormonal milieu, but that BNC production is greatly modified by the hormonal changes just before parturition, with cortisol production by the fetus a possible primary cause.