Specializations of the chorioallantoic placenta in the Brazilian scincid lizard, Mabuya heathi: A new placental morphotype for reptiles



New World skinks of the genus Mabuya exhibit a unique form of viviparity that involves ovulation of tiny (1 mm) eggs and provision of virtually all of the nutrients for embryonic development by placental means. Studies of the Brazilian species M. heathi reveal that the chorioallantoic placenta is unlike those reported in any other squamate genus and exhibits striking specializations for maternal–fetal nutrient transfer. The uterine lining is intimately apposed to the chorioallantois, with no trace of an intervening shell membrane or of epithelial erosion; thus, the placenta is epitheliochorial. The uterus exhibits multicellular glands that secrete organic material into the uterine lumen. Opposite the openings of these glands, the chorion develops areolae, invaginated pits that are lined by absorptive, columnar epithelium. A single, mesometrial placentome develops, formed by radially oriented uterine folds that project into a deep invagination of the chorion. Uterine epithelium of the placentome appears to be syncytial and secretory and overlies a rich vascular supply. The apposed chorionic epithelium is absorptive in morphology and contains giant binucleated cells that bear microvilli. Several specializations of the placental membranes of M. heathi are found among eutherian mammals, signifying evolutionary convergence that extends to histological and cytological levels. The chorioallantoic placenta of M. heathi and its relatives warrants recognition as a new morphotype for reptiles, defined here as the “Type IV” placenta. This is the first new type of chorioallantoic placenta to be defined formally for reptiles in over half a century. J. Morphol. 254:121–131, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.