REPRODUCTION, vol.131, no.4, pp.669-679, 2006 (SCI-Expanded)
No definitive information is yet available on the steroidogenic capacity of the two morphologically distinct cell types forming the bovine trophoblast, the uninucleated trophoblast cells (UTCs) and the trophoblast giant cells (TGCs). Hence, in order to localise 17 alpha-hydroxylase-C17,20-lyase (P450c17) on a cellular level and to monitor its expression as a function of gestational age, placentomes from pregnant (days 80-284; n = 19), prepartal (days 273-282; 24-36h prior to the onset of labour; n = 3) and parturient cows (n = 5) were immunostained for P450c17 using an antiserum against the recombinant bovine enzyme. At all stages investigated, P450c17 was exclusively found in the UTCs of chorionic villi (CV), where staining was ubiquitous between days 80 and 160, but was largely restricted to primary CV and the branching sites of secondary CV between days 160 and 240. Thereafter, a distinct ubiquitous staining reoccurred in the UTCs of all CV in late pregnant, prepartal and parturient animals. Using an antiserum against human aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450arom), specific cytoplasmic staining was observed in TGCs. In placentomes from pregnant cows, staining intensity was higher in mature compared with immature TGCs and was more pronounced in the trophoblast covering big stem villi compared with the trophoblast at other sites of the villous tree. In placentomes of a parturient cow, specific staining was only found in mature TGCs that survived the normal, but substantial, prepartal decline in TGC numbers. These results clearly showed that bovine UTCs and TGCs exhibit different steroidogenic capacities, constituting a 'two-cell' organisation for oestrogen synthesis. P450c17 expression appears to be quickly down-regulated and P450arom is up-regulated when UTCs enter the TGC differentiation pathway.