The mouse is an excellent model for studying the genetic basis of placental development, but analyses are restricted by the lack of quantitative data describing normal murine placental structure. This study establishes a technique for generating such data, applies stereological techniques on systematic uniform random sections of placentas between E12.5—E18.5 of gestation (E1.0 = day of the vaginal plug), and considers the results in the context of development of the labyrinth zone. Half of each placenta was wax embedded and exhaustively sectioned to determine absolute volumes of the labyrinth zone (Lz), junctional zone (Jz), and decidua using the Cavalieri principle. The other half was resin embedded and 1-μm sections were used to generate all volume, surface, and length densities within the Lz. Maximum placental volume is reached by E16.5, whereas the Lz volume fraction increases until E18.5 at the expense of the Jz and decidua. Within the Lz, the absolute volume and surface area of maternal blood spaces (MBS) expand rapidly between E14.5 and E16.5, with no increase thereafter. In contrast, fetal capillary development is linear and continues for longer than that of the MBS. The interhemal membrane separating maternal and fetal circulations undergoes thinning prior to expansion of maternal and fetal surface areas, achieving a harmonic mean thickness of 4.39 μm by E18.5. The specific diffusion capacity for oxygen of the interhemal membrane is maximal by E16.5, which may be necessary to support rapid fetal growth until the end of gestation.
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