Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thanks Mom

My lovely husband sent me this article in the NYT yesterday (here) . I'll let you all read it for yourselves, but the gist of the article is:

Researchers have long wondered how pregnant women might shape their fetuses’ development — by protecting them against later disease, perhaps, or instilling an appreciation of Mozart.

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.”

The work could have relevance to research on topics as diverse as organ transplantation, mother-to-child transmission of H.I.V. and autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes.
Now, I haven't started talking about T cells here yet - I still don't get it all myself. I'm learning that the immune system is incredibly complicated, and every book I read describes it differently. I'll write more about it as I understand it more. BUT... the take away I got from this article was:

1) our first immune responses are learned from our mothers, when we are in utero. This research will greatly enhance our understanding about how these first lessons are taught, and maybe how the immune system learns in general.

This article also illustrates the reverse of what I was talking about in yesterday's post. Not only does the mother's immune system have to be tolerant of the child it is hosting, but the child's immune system has to learn to be tolerant of its mother.

Now if I could only get Zoe to tolerate me!

No comments:

Post a Comment