An unborn baby’s very first connection with its mother comes via the placenta. It intrinsically links mother and child, trading nutrients and signals. In the placenta, specialised cells called trophoblasts help the embryo settle in the womb and direct the growth of blood vessels (stained in the pictured mouse placenta). If these trophoblasts don’t spread far enough through the womb, the mother is at risk of pre-eclampsia – high blood pressure that threatens both lives. How trophoblasts infiltrate the womb to do their vital work is largely unknown, but a new study has revealed the role of a gene called INF2. Pregnant mice genetically engineered to lack this gene developed pre-eclampsia symptoms and had fewer blood vessels feeding the placenta, as their trophoblasts couldn’t penetrate deep enough. Identifying this gene’s role in placental development and ailments could ultimately lead to new approaches to tackling preeclampsia and other placental conditions.
Written by Anthony Lewis
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