Placenta is a transient feto-maternal association that develops during mammalian pregnancies. Human placental tissue during the first trimester of pregnancy is an actively dividing and differentiating tissue, while near term, it represents a fully differentiated unit performing many life-sustaining functions for the fetus. Previous studies have demonstrated that the percentage of placental cells that undergo apoptosis is greater at full term as compared to the first trimester of pregnancy. In this study, we undertook a study aimed at gaining an insight into the kind of genes expressed in the two developmentally distinct stages of gestation ie, the first trimester and term using Differential Display RT-PCR. Cloning and sequencing of one of the differentially expressed cDNAs from term placental tissue revealed that it is a novel gene, referred to as T-18 in the text. In this study, we also examined the regulation of this gene during apoptosis in the human placenta. A model for analysis of placental apoptosis was established by incubating placental villi in serum-free culture medium. It was observed that apoptosis occurred rapidly following incubation of placental villi without tropic support, and the proposed free-radical scavenger, superoxide dismutase (SOD) suppressed apoptosis in the placenta. Interestingly, the levels of T-18 mRNA increased significantly during spontaneous induction of apoptosis and decreased when apoptosis was blocked by SOD. These data clearly suggest that there is a strong correlation between the expression of T-18 and placental apoptosis and that T-18, may play a significant role in this process. Furthermore, the establishment of a defined in vitro explant culture model should facilitate elucidation of factors, which regulate apoptosis in human placenta.