Now a group in California has discovered a surprising new mechanism by which women train their fetuses’ budding immune systems: the mother’s cells slip across the placenta, enter the fetus’s body and teach it to treat these cells as its own.
A crucial task of the developing immune system is to learn to distinguish between foreign substances and the self. It is tricky: the system must respond to outside threats but not overreact to harmless stimuli or the body’s own tissues.
The new findings show “how Mom is helping to tune that whole system early on,” said William J. Burlingham, an immunologist at the University of Wisconsin , who is not connected with the research. “It’s a major advance, very new and very exciting.”
I think this is fascinating, and it represents a brave new world in how the immune system works. I don’t understand it all myself (yet; I may have to go to nursing or med school just to understand the research around my disease!), but even I can see the implications.
Really interesting. I’m not sure what implications this has for me as a person who may want children one day, but it gives me a jumping off point and a lot to think about.