Mammalian placentation is a highly regulated process and is dependent on the proper development of specific trophoblast cell lineages. The two major types of trophoblast, villous and extravillous, show mitotic arrest during differentiation. In mice, the transcription factor, glial cell missing-1 (Gcm1), blocks mitosis and is required for syncytiotrophoblast formation and morphogenesis of the labyrinth, the murine equivalent of the villous placenta. The human homolog GCM1 has an analogous expression pattern, but its function is presently unknown. We studied GCM1 function in the human-derived BeWo choriocarcinoma cell line and in first trimester human placental villous and extravillous explants. The GCM1 expression was either inhibited by siRNA and antisense oligonucleotides methods or upregulated by forskolin treatment. Inhibition of GCM1 resulted in an increased rate of proliferation, but prevented de novo syncytiotrophoblast formation in syncytially denuded floating villous explants. GCM1 inhibition prevented extravillous differentiation along the invasive pathway in extravillous explants on matrigel. By contrast, forskolin-induced expression of GCM1 reduced the rate of proliferation and increased the rate of syncytialization in the floating villous explant model. Our studies show that GCM1 has a distinct role in the maintenance, development and turnover of the human trophoblast. Alterations in GCM1 expression or regulation may explain several aspects of two divergent severe placental insufficiency syndromes, namely preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction, which cause extreme preterm birth.