From the earliest stages of pregnancy, a mother’s immune system supports the growth and development of her child. The mother’s body shelters a rapidly developing human being with unique genetic material for nine months without her immune system attacking the baby, and scientists have not known exactly how — but they’re getting closer now.
Science Magazine reports that researchers looked more closely at this immunological wonder, and successfully “captured the intricate molecular negotiations that help keep both fetus and mom safe until the baby is delivered.”
Commenting on the research project, immunologist Sumati Rajagopalan said, “The complexity is stunning.” Rajagopalan works for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.
Fellow researcher Sarah Teichmann, a computational biologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, told Science, “The maternal-fetal interface is not well understood, but is crucial for a successful pregnancy.” In order to gain understanding, researchers examined the gene activity of single cells from the mother and placental and uterine tissue. Identifying 35 types of cells, the researchers were able to examine how the various cells interact to support the growth of the baby and the continuation of the pregnancy.
Teichmann explained, “We can now see in detail how they communicate with each other.” She added, “Our results also reveal multiple layers of regulation of immunity that were not previously appreciated.”
As there is much information yet to be learned about this process, Teichman’s research team organized an online database for other researchers to add additional information as they explore other interactions between the cells of mothers and babies during pregnancy.
This research, published in Nature, unfortunately seems to have used cells obtained from aborted babies between 6 and 14 weeks. Hopefully, ongoing research in this area will instead rely on ethical means of examining the interaction of maternal and fetal cells during pregnancy. The results of these findings may help prevent miscarriages and pregnancy complications as aspects of this important immunological communication are better understood.