A review of inter-and intraspecific variation in the eutherian placenta

William E. Gundling, Derek E. Wildman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The placenta is one of the most morphologically variable mammalian organs. Four major characteristics are typically discussed when comparing the placentas of different eutherian species: placental shape, maternalfetal interdigitation, intimacy of the maternalfetal interface and the pattern of maternalfetal blood flow. Here, we describe the evolution of three of these features as well as other key aspects of eutherian placentation. In addition to interspecific anatomical variation, there is also variation in placental anatomy and function within a single species. Much of this intraspecific variation occurs in response to different environmental conditions such as altitude and poor maternal nutrition. Examinations of variation in the placenta from both intraand interspecies perspectives elucidate different aspects of placental function and dysfunction at the maternal fetal interface. Comparisons within species identify candidate mechanisms that are activated in response to environmental stressors ultimately contributing to the aetiology of obstetric syndromes such as pre-eclampsia. Comparisons above the species level identify the evolutionary lineages on which the potential for the development of obstetric syndromes emerged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1663
StatePublished - Mar 5 2015


  • Adaptation
  • Placenta
  • Variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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