Normal embryonic development is dependent upon a sufficient oxygen, nutrient and waste exchange through the placenta. In primates including humans, this exchange is attained by successful haemochorial placentation which requires the transformation of maternal intramyometrial spiral arterioles by trophoblast invasion to gain uteroplacental circulation, and establishment and maintenance of a competent fetoplacental vasculature. Thus, trophoblast and endothelial cell differentiation, proliferation and invasion occurring during placentation have to be tightly regulated. This review focuses on the diverse developmental steps during haemochorial placentation in humans and other primates and the possible involvement of angiogenic growth factors (vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and angiopoietins (Ang)) in these processes, highlighting the importance of specific actions of angiogenic ligand-receptor pairs. It is hypothesized that VEGF/VEGF-R1 and Ang-1/Tie receptor 2 (Tie-2) may regulate trophoblast differentiation and invasion; VEGF/VEGF-R2 and Ang-1/Tie-2 may promote fetoplacental vascular development and stabilization; and Ang-2/Tie-2 may be involved in maternal vascular remodelling. The importance of a tight regulation of angiogenic factors and their endogenous antagonists for normal development of the placenta is demonstrated by failure of this system, resulting in abnormal placenta vascularization and trophoblast invasion associated with intrauterine growth retardation or pre-eclampsia.
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