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Placental bed research: I. The placental bed: from spiral arteries remodeling to the great obstetrical syndromes

      The term placental bed was coined to describe the maternal-fetal interface (ie, the area in which the placenta attaches itself to the uterus). Appropriate vascularization of this area is of vital importance for the development of the fetus; this is why systematic investigations of this area have now been carried out. Initially, the challenge was the identification and classification of the various successive branching of uterine arteries in this area. These vessels have a unique importance because failure of their physiological transformation is considered to be the anatomical basis for reduced perfusion to the intervillous space in women with preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction, preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of membranes, abruptio placentae, and fetal death. To investigate in depth the pathophysiology of the placental bed, some 60 years ago, a large number of placental bed biopsies, as well as of cesarean hysterectomy specimens with placenta in situ, from both early and late normotensive and hypertensive pregnancies, were carefully dissected and analyzed. Thanks to the presence of a series of specific physiological changes, characterized by the invasion and substitution of the arterial intima by trophoblast, this material allowed the identification in the placental bed of normal pregnancies of the main vessels, the uteroplacental arteries. It was then discovered that preeclampsia is associated with defective or absent transformation of the myometrial segment of the uteroplacental arteries. In addition, in severe hypertensive disease, atherosclerotic lesions were also found in the defective myometrial segment. Finally, in the basal decidua, a unique vascular lesion, coined acute atherosis, was also identified This disorder of deep placentation, coined defective deep placentation, has been associated with the great obstetrical syndromes, grouping together preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction, preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of membranes, late spontaneous abortion, and abruptio placentae. More recently, simplified techniques of tissue sampling have been also introduced: decidual suction allows to obtain a large number of decidual arteries, although their origin in the placental bed cannot be determined. Biopsies parallel to the surface of the basal plate have been more interesting, making possible to identify the vessels’ region (central, paracentral, or peripheral) of origin in the placental bed and providing decidual material for immunohistochemical studies. Finally, histochemical and electron microscopy investigations have now clarified the pathology and pathogenetic mechanisms underlying the impairment of the physiological vascular changes.

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