placenta and fetus diagramScientists are a step closer to understanding how a healthy placenta develops and why some pregnancy complications occur. The most common complications associated with the placenta are failure of the fetus to grow well, high blood pressure and protein in the urine of the mother, and separation of the placenta from the uterine wall before delivery.

The placenta connects the fetus to the uterine wall – it serves as sort of an interface between the mother and the fetus. This organ allows the fetus to take nourishment, eliminate waste, and exchange gases. The placenta keeps the blood supply of the fetus separate from the mother. The medical community is still trying to understand the mechanics and cellular processes behind the development of this interface.

In the newest study, performed on mice and published in the journal Developmental Cell, researchers were able to track single cells in the placenta and determine the cells responsible for healthy development of the placenta. They were also able to identify the pathways these cells used to communicate. Scientists used mice because they share certain physical similarities to humans.

Mammals develop a placenta from the cells that line the uterus. Like other organs of the body, the placenta contains stem cells used to create other types of cells. The scientists identified LaTP cells that, like stem cells, can transform itself into different types of body cells – in this case, placenta cells. LaTP is short for Epcamhi labyrinth trophoblast progenitor.

Researchers also found a signaling pathway that cells use to communicate biological information about the developing placenta: hepatocyte growth factor, or HGF, sends messages to its receptor, c-Met. Scientists found that proper development of the placenta relied on this messaging system to keep making LaTP cells. When the communication system between HGF and c-met is lost, the fetus does not grow as well and its liver remains underdeveloped and does a poor job of producing blood cells. Sometimes the fetus dies.

This research may be a landmark discovery as it provides special insight into why some pregnancy complications, especially those related to placental failure, occur.

Source: Ueno, Masaya. "Developmental Cell - C-Met-Dependent Multipotent Labyrinth Trophoblast Progenitors Establish Placental Exchange Interface." Developmental Cell. C-Met-Dependent Multipotent Labyrinth Trophoblast Progenitors Establish Placental Exchange Interface. 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.