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Exposure of the embryo or fetus to perturbations in utero can result in intrauterine growth restriction, a primary risk factor for the development of adult disease. However, despite similar exposures, males and females often have altered disease susceptibility or progression from different stages of life. Fetal growth is largely mediated by the placenta, which, like the fetus is genetically XX or XY. The placenta and its associated trophoblast lineages originate from the trophectoderm (TE) of the early embryo. Rodent models (rat, mouse, spiny mouse), have been used extensively to examine placenta development and these have demonstrated the growth trajectory of the placenta in females is generally slower compared to males, and also shows altered adaptive responses to stressful environments. These placental adaptations are likely to depend on the type of stressor, duration, severity and the window of exposure during development. Here we describe the divergent developmental pathways between the male and female placenta contributing to altered differentiation of the TE derived trophoblast subtypes, placental growth, and formation of the placental architecture. Our focus is primarily genetic or environmental perturbations in rodent models which show altered placental responsiveness between sexes. We suggest that perturbations during early placental development may have greater impact on viability and growth of the female fetus whilst those occurring later in gestation may preferentially affect the male fetus. This may be of great relevance to human pregnancies which result from assisted reproductive technologies or complications such as pre-eclampsia and diabetes.
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