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Keywords:

  • placenta;
  • yolk sac;
  • allantois;
  • oviduct;
  • fetal membranes;
  • viviparity

Abstract

The omphalallantoic placenta is a complex organ that is unique to viviparous squamates. Using transmission EM and light microscopy, we examined this placenta in garter snakes in order to understand its structural organization and functional capabilities. The omphalallantoic placenta is formed from the uterine lining and the bilaminar omphalopleure, the latter of which is associated with the isolated yolk mass and allantois. A thin shell membrane separates the fetal and maternal tissues throughout gestation. The uterine epithelium contains cuboidal cells with large droplets or granules and appears to be secretory. Epithelium of the omphalopleure is specialized for absorption and contains cells with prominent microvilli and others with large cytoplasmic droplets or granules. The brush-border cells are rich in mitochondria and Golgi bodies and interdigitate extensively with adjacent cells, forming elaborate intercellular canaliculi. Their morphology is consistent with their proposed role in sodium-coupled water movement. During development, the isolated yolk mass becomes depleted as yolk droplets are digested by cells of the omphalopleure and allantois. However, the allantois does not fuse to or vascularize the inner face of the omphalopleure. Consequently, the distance between fetal and maternal circulatory systems remains large (about 250–300 μm), precluding efficient gas exchange and hemotrophic transfer. The morphology of the omphalallantoic placenta strongly suggests that it functions in nutrient transfer through uterine secretion and fetal absorption. J. Morphol. 256:187–204, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.