Study Reveals Crucial Cell and Signaling Pathway that Regulate the Placental Hematopoietic Niche

UCLA Researchers Uncover Mechanisms that Protect Blood Precursors in the Placenta from Premature Differentiation
Thursday, March 1, 2012

UCLA stem cell researchers have discovered a critical placental niche cell and signaling pathway that prevent blood precursors from premature differentiation in the placenta, a process necessary for ensuring proper blood supply for an individual’s lifetime.

The placental niche, a stem cell “safe zone,” supports blood stem cell generation and expansion without promoting differentiation into mature blood cells, allowing the establishment of a pool of precursor cells that provide blood cells for later fetal and post-natal life, said study senior author Dr. Hanna Mikkola, an associate professor of molecular cell and developmental biology and a researcher at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.

Mikkola and her team found that PDGF-B signaling in trophoblasts, specialized cells of the placenta that facilitate embryo implantation and gas and nutrient exchanges between mother and fetus, is vital to maintaining the unique microenvironment needed for the blood precursors. When PDGF-B signaling is halted, the blood precursors differentiate prematurely, creating red blood cells in the placenta, Mikkola said.

The study, done in mouse models, appears March 1, 2012, in the peer-reviewed journal Developmental Cell.