New findings published in the international science journal, Nature by a collective group of researchers from Newcastle University, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and University of Cambridge reveal how new and unexpected cell states occur in the uterus and placenta during pregnancy and the genes that are utilised in those cells.
The work is the so-called ‘First Human Cell Atlas of early pregnancy’ and sheds light on how the cells communicate to effectively organise themselves to modify the mother’s immune responses appropriately during the pregnancy with the unexpected and exciting outcome of furthering our understandings of tumour cells.
Through the application of genomic practices, the researchers were able to map over 70,000 individual cells from first trimester pregnancies, focusing on the intercept between the uterus and placenta. Microscopy-based methods enabled researchers to observe the precise location of new cell states forming in the different layers of the decidua, the lining of the uterus. These sites observed are important in establishing a solid blood supply for the placenta, enabling the foetus to become and strong and healthy baby through the supply of nutrients.
These observations showed something quite remarkable. The biological building blocks of the placenta, known as trophoblast cells, ‘invade’ the decidua, causing the tissue to transform, enabling this blood flow to the foetus. They also observed the communication between cells and the mother’s immune system to coordinate the successful implantation of the placenta to the uterus. The implications of the discovery of interactions between the mother and foetus may answer many vital and previously unanswered questions in a field that has seen a limited amount of much needed research. Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, a corresponding researcher from Newcastle University noted the importance of this discovery in the advancement of our understanding of what happens in a normal pregnancy and what can go wrong during complications such as pre-eclampsia.
Prof Ashley Moffett, a corresponding author from Cambridge University, stressed the need of future clarification of what each cell’s role is exactly in a successful pregnancy. They also shed light on the study of cancerous tumour cells due to the similar biological mechanisms they use to to evade the immune system and extract new blood supplies. This will aid further understanding of the effects of pregnancy on both mother and child.