Integrin α2 marks a niche of trophoblast progenitor cells in first trimester human placenta.

09 Mar 2018

During pregnancy the trophoblast cells of the placenta are the only fetal cells in direct contact with maternal blood and decidua. Their functions include transport of nutrients and oxygen, secretion of pregnancy hormones, remodelling of the uterine arteries, and communicating with maternal cells. Despite the importance of trophoblast cells in placental development and successful pregnancy, little is known about the identity, location and differentiation of human trophoblast progenitors. We identify a proliferative trophoblast niche at the base of the cytotrophoblast cell columns in first trimester placentas that is characterised by integrin α2 (ITGA2) expression. Pulse-chase experiments with 5-iodo-2'-deoxyuridine indicate that these cells might contribute to both villous (VCT) and extravillous (EVT) lineages. These proliferating trophoblast cells can be isolated by flow cytometry using ITGA2 as a marker and express genes from both VCT and EVT. Microarray expression analysis shows that ITAG2+ cells display a unique transcriptional signature, including genes involved in NOTCH signalling, and exhibit a combination of epithelial and mesenchymal characteristics. ITGA2 thus marks a niche allowing the study of pure populations of trophoblast progenitor cells.