How does purinergic signalling control blood flow in the human placenta?


Homeostatic regulation of blood flow in the placenta is critical for normal fetal development and for maternal health during pregnancy. The placenta is a unique vascular organ having two separate circulatory systems (maternal-placental and fetal-placental). Blood vessels of the placenta are also unusual compared to blood vessels of other body tissues as they are not innervated by nerves. Adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) is an established neurotransmitter released by autonomic nerves that innervate systemic blood vessels. In these vessels, ATP causes vasoconstriction via the activation of purinergic receptors (P2X and P2Y receptors) expressed by vascular smooth muscle. We have recently identified that blood vessels of the placenta also express purinergic receptors that can be activated by extracellular ATP, but the absence of nerves in placental vessels means the physiological role of purinergic signalling in controlling placental blood flow remains elusive.

This is a collaborative research project between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital using human placenta from elective Caesarean section. It will involve cutting-edge techniques in vascular physiology and pharmacology to understand how the purinergic signalling system controls blood flow by influencing the tone of isolated placental arteries and veins. The student will receive advanced training in wire and pressure myography, calcium imaging, patch-clamp electrophysiology and confocal bioimaging.

We are seeking an enthusiastic and highly motivated early career scientist to join our internationally recognized research team based within the Biomedical Research Centre on the UEA main campus of the Norwich Research Park. The laboratory is generously funded by the BBSRC, British Heart Foundation and industrial partners. We are a highly dynamic group and presentation at domestic and international conferences is encouraged and supported.


Ralevic & Dunn, 2015. Purinergic transmission in blood vessels. Autonomic Neuroscience.

Valdes et al., 2009. Vasodilator factors in the systemic and local adaptations to pregnacy. Reproductive Biology & Endocrinology.

North, 2002. Molecular Physiology of P2X receptors. Physiological Reviews.