Why does a mother’s body keep some of her baby’s cells after birth?


THIS transformation doesn’t result in a part-lion, part-goat fire-breathing monster of Greek mythol-ogy. But it does result in another type of chimera — one defined by the presence of cells in the body that come from at least two organisms. That’s because the mother may live the rest of her life with cells in her body that are not her own, but her baby’s.
During pregnancy, some of the fetus’s cells leave the womb, traveling through the placenta and into the mother’s bloodstream, where they end up in various parts of her body.
This phenomenon, later coined as “fetal micro-chimerism,” was first discovered in the late 19th century by a German scientist named Georg Schmorl. A century later, interest in the phenome-non re-emerged, when scientists realized that fetal microchimerism could explain how Y chromosomes — only passed down from father to son — some-times ended up in women’s cells.
It’s not surprising that cells can be easily ex-changed between mother and fetus, said Amy Boddy, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s because humans have one of the most invasive placenta types among mammals — one that rearranges arteries so that there is direct blood flow between the mother and the fetus.
This cell exchange starts about six weeks into a pregnancy and continues for the duration, Boddy told Live Science.
Studies have found that these fetal cells can essentially travel to anywhere in the body. In a 2015 study, researchers found cells that contained Y chromosomes in the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs, spleens and livers of 26 women who died within one month after pregnancy (all were carrying male ba-bies).
The fact that they can be found in so many dif-ferent tissue types indicates that they’re probably stem cells, or cells that can differentiate into any type of cell, she said.
The mother’s body kills off most of these circu-lating fetal cells shortly after pregnancy. But some evade the immune system and can stay for long periods of time in the mother’s body — in some cases, even a lifetime, she said.
“If [the cells were] integrated into tissue … they can be around for a lifetime,” Boddy said. For ex-ample, a 2012 study found Y chromosomes in 63 percent of the brains of 59 women — the oldest of whom was 94. That means these weren’t women who just gave birth.
Knowing how the fetal cells get into the mother’s tissues is one thing. But why so many manage to stick around still raises questions.
“We don’t know why the ones that stay, stay.

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