A crossroad between placental and tumor biology: What have we learnt?
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Placenta in certain species including the human has evolved as a highly invasive tumor-like organ invading the uterus aned its vasculature to derive oxygen and nutrients for the fetus and exchange waste products. While several excellent reviews have been written comparing hemochorial placentation with tumors, no comprehensive review is available dealing with mechanistic insights into what makes them different, and what tumor biologists can learn from placental biologists, and vice versa. In this review, we analyze the structure-function relationship of the human placenta, emphasizing the functional need of the spatio-temporally orchestrated trophoblast invasiveness for fetal development and growth, and pathological consequences of aberrant invasiveness for fetal and maternal health. We then analyze similarities and differences between the placenta and invasive tumors in terms of hallmarks of cancer, some key molecules regulating their invasive functions, and how placental cancers (choriocarcinomas) or other cancers become refractory or even addicted to these invasion-restraining molecules. We cite in vitro models of human trophoblast and choriocarcinoma cell lines utilized to study mechanisms in normal placental development as well as those responsible for tumor progression. We discuss the pathobiology of hyper-invasive placentas and show thattrophoblastic neoplasias are a unique and heterogeneous class of tumors. We delve into the questions as to why metastasis from other organs rarely occurs at the placental site and whether pregnancy makes the mother more or less vulnerable to cancer-related morbidity/mortality. We attempt to compare trophoblast stem cells and cancer stem cells. Finally, we leave the readers with some thoughts as foods of future investigations.