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Concept: Placenta


Unexplained intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) may be a consequence of placental insufficiency; however, its etiology is not fully understood. We surmised that defective placentation in IUGR dysregulates cellular bioenergic homeostasis, leading to increased autophagy in the villous trophoblast. The aims of this work were (1) to compare the differences in autophagy, p53 expression, and apoptosis between placentas of women with normal or IUGR pregnancies; (2) to study the effects of hypoxia and the role of p53 in regulating trophoblast autophagy; and (3) to investigate the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis in hypoxic trophoblasts.

Concepts: Cancer, Apoptosis, Obstetrics, Transcription factor, P53, Placenta, Programmed cell death, Fundal height


Pre-eclampsia (PE), a severe pregnancy-specific disease characterized by the new onset of hypertension, proteinuria, edema, and a series of other systematic disorders, is a state of widespread mitochondrial dysfunction of the placenta.

Concepts: Mitochondrion, Proteomics, Placenta, Pre-eclampsia


Maternal perception of reduced fetal movements (RFM) is associated with increased risk of fetal growth restriction (FGR) and stillbirth, mediated by placental insufficiency. The maternally expressed imprinted gene PHLDA2 controls fetal growth, placental development and placental lactogen production in a mouse model. A number of studies have also demonstrated abnormally elevated placental PHLDA2 expression in human growth restricted pregnancies. This study examined whether PHLDA2 was aberrantly expressed in placentas of RFM pregnancies resulting in delivery of an FGR infant and explored a possible relationship between PHLDA2 expression and placental lactogen release from the human placenta.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Infant, Gene expression, Fetus, Developmental biology, Placenta, Placental lactogen


Fetal health is critically dependent on placental function, especially placental transport of oxygen from mother to fetus. When fetal growth is compromised, placental insufficiency must be distinguished from modest genetic growth potential. If placental insufficiency is present, the physician must trade off the risk of prolonged fetal exposure to placental insufficiency against the risks of preterm delivery. Current ultrasound methods to evaluate the placenta are indirect and insensitive. We propose to use Blood-Oxygenation-Level-Dependent (BOLD) MRI with maternal hyperoxia to quantitatively assess mismatch in placental function in seven monozygotic twin pairs naturally matched for genetic growth potential. In-utero BOLD MRI time series were acquired at 29 to 34 weeks gestational age. Maps of oxygen Time-To-Plateau (TTP) were obtained in the placentas by voxel-wise fitting of the time series. Fetal brain and liver volumes were measured based on structural MR images. After delivery, birth weights were obtained and placental pathological evaluations were performed. Mean placental TTP negatively correlated with fetal liver and brain volumes at the time of MRI as well as with birth weights. Mean placental TTP positively correlated with placental pathology. This study demonstrates the potential of BOLD MRI with maternal hyperoxia to quantify regional placental function in vivo.

Concepts: Hemoglobin, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Embryo, Fetus, Liver, Placenta, Gestational age


We recently discovered an unexpected phenomenon of somatic cell reprogramming into pluripotent cells by exposure to sublethal stimuli, which we call stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). This reprogramming does not require nuclear transfer or genetic manipulation. Here we report that reprogrammed STAP cells, unlike embryonic stem (ES) cells, can contribute to both embryonic and placental tissues, as seen in a blastocyst injection assay. Mouse STAP cells lose the ability to contribute to the placenta as well as trophoblast marker expression on converting into ES-like stem cells by treatment with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF). In contrast, when cultured with Fgf4, STAP cells give rise to proliferative stem cells with enhanced trophoblastic characteristics. Notably, unlike conventional trophoblast stem cells, the Fgf4-induced stem cells from STAP cells contribute to both embryonic and placental tissues in vivo and transform into ES-like cells when cultured with LIF-containing medium. Taken together, the developmental potential of STAP cells, shown by chimaera formation and in vitro cell conversion, indicates that they represent a unique state of pluripotency.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cell biology, Placenta, Trophoblast, Pluripotency


Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Infant, Fetus, Fertility, Abortion, Umbilical cord, Placenta


Zika virus (ZIKV) infection in pregnant women causes intrauterine growth restriction, spontaneous abortion, and microcephaly. Here, we describe two mouse models of placental and fetal disease associated with in utero transmission of ZIKV. Female mice lacking type I interferon signaling (Ifnar1(-/-)) crossed to wild-type (WT) males produced heterozygous fetuses resembling the immune status of human fetuses. Maternal inoculation at embryonic day 6.5 (E6.5) or E7.5 resulted in fetal demise that was associated with ZIKV infection of the placenta and fetal brain. We identified ZIKV within trophoblasts of the maternal and fetal placenta, consistent with a trans-placental infection route. Antibody blockade of Ifnar1 signaling in WT pregnant mice enhanced ZIKV trans-placental infection although it did not result in fetal death. These models will facilitate the study of ZIKV pathogenesis, in utero transmission, and testing of therapies and vaccines to prevent congenital malformations.

Concepts: Immune system, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Embryo, Fetus, Uterus, Abortion, Placenta


Although some research suggests that fetuses yawn, others disagree arguing that is it simple mouth opening. Furthermore there is no developmental account of fetal yawning compared with simple mouth opening. The aim of the present study was to establish in a repeated measures design the development of fetal yawning compared with simple mouth opening.

Concepts: Embryo, Uterus, Developmental biology, Embryology, Placenta, Repeated measures design


Infection of pregnant women by Asian lineage strains of Zika virus (ZIKV) has been linked to brain abnormalities in their infants, yet it is uncertain when during pregnancy the human conceptus is most vulnerable to the virus. We have examined two models to study susceptibility of human placental trophoblast to ZIKV: cytotrophoblast and syncytiotrophoblast derived from placental villi at term and colonies of trophoblast differentiated from embryonic stem cells (ESC). The latter appear to be analogous to the primitive placenta formed during implantation. The cells from term placentas, which resist infection, do not express genes encoding most attachment factors implicated in ZIKV entry but do express many genes associated with antiviral defense. By contrast, the ESC-derived trophoblasts possess a wide range of attachment factors for ZIKV entry and lack components of a robust antiviral response system. These cells, particularly areas of syncytiotrophoblast within the colonies, quickly become infected, produce infectious virus and undergo lysis within 48 h after exposure to low titers (multiplicity of infection > 0.07) of an African lineage strain (MR766 Uganda: ZIKV(U)) considered to be benign with regards to effects on fetal development. Unexpectedly, lytic effects required significantly higher titers of the presumed more virulent FSS13025 Cambodia (ZIKV©). Our data suggest that the developing fetus might be most vulnerable to ZIKV early in the first trimester before a protective zone of mature villous trophoblast has been established. Additionally, MR766 is highly trophic toward primitive trophoblast, which may put the early conceptus of an infected mother at high risk for destruction.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Embryo, Fetus, Virus, Infection, Embryonic stem cell, Placenta, Trophoblast


Arsenic crosses the placenta and may have adverse consequences in utero and later in life. At present, little is known about arsenic concentrations in placenta and their relation to maternal and infant exposures particularly at common levels of exposure. We measured placenta arsenic in a US cohort potentially exposed via drinking water from private wells, and evaluated the relationships between placenta and maternal and infant biomarker arsenic concentrations. We measured total arsenic concentrations in placental samples from women enrolled in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study (N=766). We compared these data to maternal urinary arsenic (total arsenic and individual species) collected at approximately 24-28 week gestation, along with maternal post-partum toenails and infant toenails using non-parametric multivariate analysis of log10-transformed data. We also examined the association between placental arsenic and household drinking water arsenic. Placenta arsenic concentrations were related to arsenic concentrations in maternal urine (β 0.55, P value <0.0001), maternal (β 0.30, P value 0.0196) and infant toenails (β 0.40, P value 0.0293) and household drinking water (β 0.09, P value <0.0001). Thus, our data suggest that placenta arsenic concentrations reflect both maternal and infant exposures.Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology advance online publication, 25 March 2015; doi:10.1038/jes.2015.16.

Concepts: Cohort study, Childbirth, Epidemiology, Statistics, Water, Breastfeeding, Biomarker, Placenta