Impact of environmental stressors on the vascular structure and function of rodent placenta

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Optimal placental function is vital for ensuring proper development of the fetus. Underpinning placental function is the establishment of a complex vascular network containing two separate circulations: the feto-placental and the maternal. The feto-placental vasculature network comprises an elaborate branching tree-like structure. The complexity of this structure determines villous development and is a crucial determining factor for adequate placental nutrient and waste exchange, and thus fetal growth. This is of key importance because optimal fetal growth is critical not just for short-term fetal health but also for long-term health outcomes.

Studies of placentas from intrauterine growth restricted fetuses reveal that the placental capillaries (terminal villous compartment) decrease in number and have altered structure. In addition, in rodent experimental models of common environmental stressors (ie. glucocorticoid, maternal malnutrition), there is some evidence that feto-placental vascular development is compromised. Thus, exposure of the placenta to glucocorticoids (‘stress’ hormones) markedly reduces placental weight, feto-placental vascular volume, length and diameter. However, whether this is the case in other common models of environmental stress in pregnancy (such as maternal malnutrition and psychological stress) is unknown. Furthermore, we currently have no appreciation for how the three-dimensional structure of the feto-placental vasculature (ie. branching, tortuosity) is altered by these environmental stressors.
Associated with reduced feto-placental vascular development is presumably alteration in the capacity of the placenta to exchange nutrients such as oxygen. Yet, little work has been conducted to link how variations in placental vascular structure align with placental function. There is evidence in glucocorticoid-exposed placentas that there is alteration in the placental transfer of glucose and amino acids but how oxygen transfer is affected is unknown. This gap in current knowledge is in part because of a limitation in modalities suitable for imaging placental function. In the past couple of years, however, there have been exciting developments in using MRI to assess placental function.
To address these important gaps in the literature, this PhD proposes to investigate the impact of environmental stressors on the structure and function of rodent placental vasculature. We aim to characterise the 3D structure of rodent placentas affected by different environmental stressors (such as glucocorticoid excess, maternal low protein diet, psychological stress) with a particular focus on feto-placental vessel branching complexity and tortuosity. We will also develop novel a MRI methodology to assess placental function, and from this determine whether components of the placental vascular structure associate with function. This information will be crucial for establishing a basic framework for understanding the significance of placental vasculature and ultimately this knowledge will add considerably to future diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2016
EventThe 2016 UWA APHB Postgraduate Student Expo - The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
Duration: 20 Jul 201620 Jul 2016


ConferenceThe 2016 UWA APHB Postgraduate Student Expo
Abbreviated titleUWA Postgrad Expo 2016


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