As a parent, it’s understandable to be concerned about your child’s health and well-being. However, recent research has shed light on a fascinating phenomenon known as fetal microchimerism. This occurs when cells from the fetus cross the placenta and take up residence in different parts of the mother’s body. It’s possible that this process could have both positive and negative effects on the mother’s health.
Amazing chimera discovery
In fact, chimeras – creatures from Greek mythology made up of different animal parts – exist in humans, with many individuals carrying foreign cells from their parents, siblings, or children acquired during pregnancy. It’s an interesting and complex topic to explore.
“Fetal cells can act as stem cells and develop into epithelial cells, specialized heart cells, liver cells and so forth. This shows that they are very dynamic and play a huge role in the maternal body. They can even migrate to the brain and differentiate into neurons,” Boddy said. “We are all chimeras.”
ASU researchers, Angelo Fortunato, Melissa Wilson Sayres, and Athena Aktipis, have collaborated with Boddy for a groundbreaking study. Fortunato is a highly respected member of the esteemed Human and Comparative Genomics Lab of Biodesign Institute. Wilson Sayres and Aktipis also hold prestigious positions at Biodesign’s Center for Evolution and Medicine, as well as ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Department of Psychology, respectively.
Fetal microchimerism in placental mammals
Despite the prevalence of fetal microchimerism in placental mammals, including humans, its impact on maternal health remains a highly debated topic within the scientific community. In an article published in the advanced online edition of Bioessays, Boddy, and colleagues conduct a thorough analysis of existing literature on fetal microchimerism and its effects on human health.
Utilizing an evolutionary approach, the study aims to determine when fetal cells are likely to act cooperatively to improve maternal health, and when their behavior could be competitive, leading to adverse effects on the mother.
This study presents a crucial step towards further understanding the intricate relationship between fetal microchimerism and maternal health.
Fetal cells are thought to have a broader role than just moving to the mother’s tissues.
They may serve as a type of placenta outside of the womb, transferring vital resources from the mother’s body to the growing fetus. These cells, originating from the fetus, can remain in the mother’s tissues for many years after childbirth. They have been linked to shielding against or making one more vulnerable to various ailments such as cancer and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
But, as co-author Wilson Sayres, cautions, “it’s not only a tug of war between maternal and fetal interests. There is also a mutual desire for the maternal system to survive and provide nutrients and for the fetal system to survive and pass on DNA.”
Fetal microchimerism may be an adaptive strategy selected by evolution if it positively impacts the survival of both mothers and offspring. Current data on fetal microchimerism and health show that fetal cells can either work cooperatively with maternal tissues, compete for resources in other tissues, or exist as neutral entities. It’s evident that the roles played by fetal cells vary at different times.
For example, if identified as foreign entities by the maternal immune system, fetal cells may contribute to inflammation and autoimmunity in the mother.
Higher rates of autoimmunity in women
This can explain the higher rates of autoimmunity in women, who have three times the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis compared to men.
Fetal cells have been found to aid in the healing process by migrating to damaged tissue and repairing it.
These cells have been identified in wounds such as cesarean incisions, suggesting that they play an active role in the healing process. Additionally, fetal cells from the placenta may enter the bloodstream and end up in various parts of the body, such as the lungs, where they simply exist without causing harm.
The current review is a preliminary attempt to understand the various ways fetal microchimerism affects human health. One of the intriguing possibilities highlighted in the recent study suggests that fetal cells may influence neural pathways that regulate emotions and behavior.
These cells could potentially manipulate mechanisms that trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that fosters the emotional bond between mother and baby.
Fetal cells could be the root cause of various physical and emotional symptoms experienced by mothers during pregnancy, such as morning sickness and postpartum depression.
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Moreover, early-onset menopause might be a consequence of fetal cells attempting to restrict the mother from having more children, in order to prioritize resources for the fetus and growing child.
This is only one aspect of a complex puzzle, as cell traffic goes both ways, with the fetus also receiving cells from the mother. Subsequent pregnancies could be impacted by fetal cells from previous pregnancies that can cross the placenta, potentially affecting the health of later offspring. Additionally, cells from later fetuses can enter the microchimeric arena, which could instigate sibling rivalries for limited resources.
It’s truly amazing how fetal cells could potentially change the game in both diagnosing existing conditions and predicting maternal health. In addition, these cells could be used for therapeutic purposes in the future, which could help with things like poor lactation, wound healing, tumor reduction, and pregnancy-related psychological disorders.
It’s important to note that the process of identifying fetal cells in maternal tissues is just the beginning. To get a complete understanding of their function, researchers must analyze their gene expression and their interaction with maternal tissues.
By examining maternal cells in surrounding tissues, we can determine if they’re immune cells targeting fetal interlopers or normal epithelial cells coexisting peacefully. This way, we can truly understand the role that fetal cells play in maternal health and the potential benefits they could bring in the future.
Check out the complete original article, it’s truly mind-blowing.