Ferritin was injected into the fetal or the maternal circulation of 27 to 29 day pregnant rabbits. After the occurrence of a quasi steady state, the placentas were prepared for electron microscopy. Ferritin particles were counted in the electron micrographs in the fetal capillaries, in the maternal blood spaces, and in the 2 interstitial compartments of the 3 layered placenta. Under the circumstances of the experiments (excessively elevated plasma ferritin concentrations), no evidence was found for nondiffusional transport of radiolabeled ferritin. Comparison of the standing concentration gradients in the placentas, recorded after maternal and after fetal injection, showed that the interstitial spaces 'excluded' ferritin; the plasma interstitial space ferritin partition coefficients were 10 in the basement membrane space and 3 in the space between the cyto and syncytiotrophoblasts. 55% Of the total concentration gradient across the rabbit placenta occurred across the fetal endothelium, about 45% across the cytotrophoblast, and less than 5% across the syncytiotrophoblast. These figures are believed to reflect the relative contributions of these 3 layers to the total diffusional resistance in the rabbit placenta. When compared to previous data on the relative contributions of these 3 layers for small ions and molecules, the present data lead to the conclusion that discrimination of molecular size is a function of the fetal capillary endothelium alone.
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