The cellular origin, structure, and function of trophoblastic giant cells (GC) and binucleate cells (BNC) are reviewed. Mammals in which these cells have received the greatest attention include rodents, rabbits, and humans (GCs), and ruminants and equids (BNCs). In almost all cases these cells arise from the cytotrophoblast. All are large cells and contain either two diploid nuclei (BNCs), multiple nuclei (human placental bed GCs), or single nuclei with amplified DNA content (rodent and rabbit GCs). Giant and binucleate cells typically exhibit the capacity for migration or invasion, although the degree of migratory activity varies between species. While most end up within, or at the interface with, endometrial tissue, in some instances the GCs or BNCs contribute directly to the interhemal membrane of the placenta. Hormone production is a property which most GC-BNC populations have in common. Lactogen or gonadotropin has been documented in almost all cells of this type examined to date, and in some animals they are also steroidogenic (e.g., rats and sheep). In spite of some common features, both structural and functional differences remain and it is suggested that use of terms such as mononuclear giant cells, multinucleate giant cells, and binucleate cells be continued rather than assuming that these cells are all members of a single trophoblastic subtype. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.