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It has been reported that during the culture of human placental explants, the syncytiotrophoblast dies between 3 and 24 h and is then replaced within 48 h by a new syncytiotrophoblast layer formed by the fusion of underlying cytotrophoblasts. Most frequently the death of the syncytiotrophoblast is indicated by the uptake of nuclear stains such as propidium iodide (PI). This process is reportedly similar in both early and late gestation placental explants. We cultured first trimester placental explants for up to 48 h and tested membrane intactness by exposure to PI. Connexin and pannexin mRNAs were quantified by RT-PCR and protein levels determined by immunofluorescence. The syncytiotrophoblast membrane leak was determined by culturing explants in the presence of hemichannel blockers. Extrusion of extracellular vesicles from the syncytiotrophoblast was quantified. Nuclei of the syncytiotrophoblast were stained with PI following approximately 4 h of culture and this was prevented by culturing the explants with pannexin-1 blockers. Expression of pannexin-1 hemichannels increased during explant culture (p = 0.0027). Extracellular vesicles were most abundantly extruded from the explants during the first 3 h of culture and the temporal pattern of extrusion was unaltered by blocking hemichannels. We show the mechanism of uptake of nuclear non-viability stains into the syncytiotrophoblast during explant culture is via upregulation of pannexin 1 hemichannels. Contrary to suggestions by some, the production of extracellular vesicles from cultured placental explants is not an in vitro artefact resulting from the apparent death of the syncytiotrophoblast in explant cultures. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Xirong Xiao, Yunhui Tang, Yvette Wooff, Chunlin Su, Matt Kang, Simon J O'Carroll, Qi Chen, Larry Chamley. Upregulation of pannexin-1 hemichannels explains the apparent death of the syncytiotrophoblast during human placental explant culture. Placenta. 2020 May;94:1-12

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PMID: 32217265

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