interesting, very interesting

At the risk of making this a blog exclusively about PsA, here’s a great link from a February 2009 New York Times article about the mother’s effect on her baby’s immune system.

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.

“It points the way to a huge range of biologically significant questions that are worth exploring,” Dr. Burlingham said.

(Found via Understanding Psoriatic Arthritis.)

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.


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