Uncovering the role of the placenta in pregnancy immune tolerance

An associate professor at Michigan State University studies immune tolerance related to pregnancy.

A pregnant woman getting blood pressure checked by a doctor.

Margaret Petroff, an associate professor at Michigan State University, believes that decoding secrets to immune tolerance could lead to treatment breakthroughs for a variety of conditions.

Petroff and her team are studying a form of immune tolerance familiar to many women: pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is something that, despite its prevalence, we still have a lot to learn about,” Petroff said. “Half of the fetus’s genetic material is from the mother, and half is from the father. That half from the father is foreign to the mother, so we want to know how her immune system copes with it.”

Although blood between the mother and the fetus never mix, other genetic material does. The placenta acts as the biological pathway between mother and fetus and is responsible for the transport of nutrients and oxygen. But the organ also sheds genetic material that Petroff believes may be interacting with the mother’s immune system.

In some cases, the mother’s immune system malfunctions during pregnancy. This can result in a number of complications, but one of the most common is preeclampsia. Petroff’s team has identified preeclampsia as a research priority because of its prevalence and that little is known about what causes it.

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