Recent research conducted jointly by academics from Royal Holloway and The University of Western Ontario has unveiled a potential connection between fetal cells retained by pregnant mothers from previous pregnancies involving different partners and an elevated risk of health complications.
These complications include pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and autoimmune diseases post-pregnancy. The findings have been published in the esteemed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Throughout their lives, mothers retain fetal cells from each of their pregnancies. These fetal cells possess a unique genetic profile, inheriting half of their genes from the mother and the remaining half from the respective father. This persistent presence of fetal cells in mothers has led scientists to label them as microchimeras.
The term “microchimera” serves as a descriptor for the phenomenon wherein mothers are composed of cells from multiple sources—both their own cells and those of their offspring. This concept draws a parallel with the mythical creature, the chimera, which was a fusion of a lion, snake, and goat.
While fetal microchimeric cells within mothers have previously been associated with autoimmune and reproductive health issues, the precise role they play in causing these complications has remained somewhat elusive.
Researchers now propose that the genetic diversity introduced by different mating partners in a mother’s previous pregnancies may hold the key to understanding these health complications.
Previous studies have made an important discovery that pregnant mothers who had different partners in their pregnancies were ten times more likely to experience a condition called pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.
This condition can be adverse and affects blood pressure. In contrast, mothers who had the same partner throughout all their pregnancies had a lower risk of pre-eclampsia.
Commenting on the study, Professor Francisco Úbeda from the Department of Biological Studies at Royal Holloway stated, “This evolutionary study is particularly intriguing, as we do not yet fully understand why women who become pregnant with different partners over time encounter a higher incidence of health complications.
Our findings align with medical observations that microchimeric cells are more prevalent in mothers experiencing pre-eclampsia and that mothers with multiple partners are at a heightened risk of developing this condition.”
“We propose that genetically diverse microchimeric cells may be more likely to contribute to health problems and recommend exploring medical interventions to address these issues,” Professor Úbeda explained.
This research brings to light a potentially significant factor in health complications in women during and after pregnancy. It highlights the need for further investigation but also suggests the possibility of medical interventions that could enhance maternal health outcomes.