Morphological and Functional Changes in Placentas from Prolonged Pregnancies

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Prolonged pregnancy describes a pregnancy that progresses beyond 42 weeks’ gestation (294 days). In humans, prolonged pregnancy is associated with increasing perinatal mortality, neonatal compromise and birth by Caesarean section. The underpinning reasons behind these increased risks are unknown; one potential explanation is reduced placental function due to ageing processes. This review describes the structural and functional changes seen in prolonged pregnancy in humans and in animal models. Prolonged pregnancies are associated with reduced placental growth, leading to an increase in fetal to placental weight ratio. Microscopic changes include aggregation of syncytiotrophoblast nuclei, reduced villous vascularity with a concomitant impairment of trophoblast transport processes (reduced pinocytosis); this is associated with increased evidence of oxidative stress, with downstream consequences including cellular senescence, autophagy and apoptosis; importantly many of these changes are similar to fetal growth restriction and pre-eclampsia. Thus, we argue that these observations provide evidence of ageing within the placenta, which may initially be adaptive but can become pathological leading to a reduction in placental function. This provides a biological basis for the increased risk of adverse outcomes observed in prolonged pregnancies. Greater insight into the effects and risks of placental ageing may be useful to guide clinicians on the management of prolonged pregnancies.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Early online date16 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2022