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R Michael Roberts, Jonathan A Green and Laura C Schulz

The very apt definition of a placenta is coined by Mossman, namely apposition or fusion of the fetal membranes to the uterine mucosa for physiological exchange. As such, it is a specialized organ whose purpose is to provide continuing support to the developing young. By this definition, placentas have evolved within every vertebrate class other than birds. They have evolved on multiple occasions, often within quite narrow taxonomic groups. As the placenta and the maternal system associate more intimately, such that the conceptus relies extensively on maternal support, the relationship leads to increased conflict that drives adaptive changes on both sides. The story of vertebrate placentation, therefore, is one of convergent evolution at both the macromolecular and molecular levels. In this short review, we first describe the emergence of placental-like structures in nonmammalian vertebrates and then transition to mammals themselves. We close the review by discussing the mechanisms that might have favored diversity and hence evolution of the morphology and physiology of the placentas of eutherian mammals.

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Rhianna M Wallace, Ky G Pohler, Michael F Smith and Jonathan A Green

Pregnancy-associated glycoproteins (PAGs) are abundantly expressed products of the placenta of species within the Cetartiodactyla order (even-toed ungulates). They are restricted to this order and they are particularly numerous in the Bovidae. The PAGs exhibit a range of temporal and spatial expression patterns by the placental trophoblasts and probably represent a group of related proteins that perform a range of distinct functions in the epitheliochorial and synepitheliochorial placental forms. This review presents an overview of the origins of the PAGs, a summary of PAG expression patterns, and their use as markers of pregnancy status. Speculations about their putative role(s) in pregnancy are also presented.