The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 54: 475 - 482 (2010)

Vol 54, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Placenta

Trisomy 21- affected placentas highlight prerequisite factors for human trophoblast fusion and differentiation

Review | Published: 21 September 2009

André Malassiné1,2,3, Jean-Louis Frendo1,2,3 and Danièle Evain-Brion*,1,2,3

1INSERM, U767, 2Université Paris Descartes and 3PremUP, Fondation, Paris, France


Trophoblastic cell fusion is one essential step of the human trophoblast differentiation pathway and is a multifactorial and dynamic process finely regulated and still poorly known. Disturbances of syncytiotrophoblast formation are observed in numerous pathological clinical conditions such as preeclampsia, intrauterine growth retardation and trisomy 21. In this review, we summarize current knowledge of the different membrane proteins directly involved in trophoblastic cell fusion, which we identified by using the physiological model of primary culture of villous trophoblastic cells. Connexin 43 and gap junctional intercellular communication point to the role of molecular exchanges through connexin channels preceding membrane fusion. Zona occludens-1, which can interact with connexin 43, is also directly involved in trophoblast fusion. The recently identified fusogenic membrane retroviral envelop glycoproteins syncytin 1 (encoded by the HERV-W gene) and syncytin 2 (encoded by the FRD gene) and their receptors are major factors involved in human placental development . We describe the increasing number of factors promoting or inhibiting trophoblast fusion and differentiation and emphasize the role of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and its receptor. Indeed, in trisomy 21 the dynamic process leading to membrane fusion is impaired due to an abnormal hCG signaling. This abnormal trophoblast fusion and differentiation in trisomy 21-affected placenta is reversible in vitro. Trisomy 21 trophoblastic cell culture may therefore be useful to identify the possible large number of prerequisite factors involved in trophoblast fusion, the limiting step of trophoblast differentiation.


connexin 43, ZO-1, syncytin, hCG, human placenta

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