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Placental vascular gene networks in mammals have been largely unexplored due to a lack of well validated molecular markers to identify them. This is required to study how they form in development, and how they are impacted by embryonic or maternal defects, which in-turn adversely affects the forming heart and vasculature. Such defects are known to be a consequence of maternal iron deficiency (ID), the most common nutrient deficiency world-wide. Here we employed marker analysis to characterise the arterial/arteriole and venous/venule endothelial cells (ECs) during normal placental development, and in the context of maternal ID. We reveal for the first time that placental ECs are unique compared with their embryonic counterparts. In the developing embryo, arterial ECs express Neuropilin1 ( Nrp1 ), Delta-like ligand 4 ( Dll4 ) and Notch1 , while developing venous ECs express Neuropilin2 ( Nrp2 ), Apj (Aplnr) and Ephrinb4 (Ephb4) . However, in the E15.5 placenta, Nrp1 and Notch1 were restricted to arteries, but not continuing arteriole ECs. The arterial tree exclusively expressed Dll4. Nrp2 showed pan-EC expression at E15.5, while Ephb4 was not present at this stage. However, we found the placental venous vascular tree could be distinguished from the arterial tree by high versus low Endomucin (EMCN) and Apj (Aplnr) expression respectively. Using EMCN, we reveal that the placental arterial, but not venous, vascular tree is adversely impacted by maternal ID, with reduced area, total length and number of junctions of all vessels without affecting the EMCN high vessels. Defects to the embryonic cardiovascular system can therefore have a significant impact on blood flow delivery and expansion of the placental arterial tree.

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