Oxygen Tension Directs the Differentiation Pathway of Human Cytotrophoblast Cells

J. C. Robins*, A. Heizer, A. Hardiman, M. Hubert, S. Handwerger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


During placental development, human cytotrophoblast cells can differentiate to either villous syncytiotrophoblast cells or invasive extravillous trophoblast cells. We hypothesize that oxygen tension plays a critical role in determining the pathway of cytotrophoblast differentiation. A highly purified preparation of cytotrophoblast cells from human third trimester placenta was cultured for 5 days in either 20% or 1% oxygen tension. The cells incubated at 20% oxygen formed a syncytium as determined by immunohistochemistry using an anti-desmosomal protein antibody that identifies cell membranes. In addition, the mRNA was markedly induced for syncytin, a glycoprotein shown to be essential for syncytiotrophoblast formation, and for human placental lactogen (hPL), which is a specific marker for syncytiotrophoblast cells. In contrast, the cell incubated at 1% oxygen tension did not fuse by morphologic analysis and did not express syncytin or hPL mRNA. However, these cells expressed abundant amounts of HLA-G, a specific marker for extravillous trophoblast cells, which was not seen in cells incubated at 20% oxygen tension. These results suggest that low oxygen tension directs differentiation along the extravillous trophoblast cell pathway while greater oxygen tension directs differentiation along the villous trophoblast cell pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1141-1146
Number of pages6
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007


  • Cytotrophoblast
  • Differentiation
  • Hypoxia
  • Oxygen tension
  • Placenta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Developmental Biology

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