Air pollution exposure linked to adverse outcomes in pregnancy

A new study using mice has revealed how exposure to traffic-related air pollutants causes cellular changes in the placenta that can lead to pregnancy complications and affect the health of both mother and offspring.

The researchers from UCLA found the cellular changes caused by chronic exposure to air pollution were related to immune activation by foreign substances entering the blood from the lungs.

This immune response attacks some of placental cells that are required to maintain the structure of the placenta, and most importantly the blood flow from mother to developing baby.

The study is the first to assess how air pollution exposure can negatively affect the placenta, leading to adverse outcomes in pregnancy.

‘The cellular changes we have observed could provide the missing link between exposure to air pollutants and adverse pregnancy outcomes, thereby helping to focus development of preventive strategies for at-risk pregnancies,’ said Dr. Sherin Devaskar, lead author of the study and physician-in-chief of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and distinguished professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

white and brown hamster on white surface

The study exposed one group of female mice to environmental air pollutants nasally, starting two months before conception and during pregnancy, while a control group were exposed to saline.

By the end of the study, tissue samples indicated that inhaled air pollutants had compromised the composition of the placental cells and molecular signatures. Researchers also identified inflammation in the mucosal lining of the uterus triggered by pollution.

The placenta is essential for a successful pregnancy and for maintaining the health of both the mother and the baby. These study findings suggest that maternal cells of immunity may be responsible for destruction of vital vascular cells in the placenta.

This auto-destruction of placental structures can disrupt the maintenance of a healthy pregnancy or at least affect nutrient supply from the mother to the baby, with the potential for adverse pregnancy consequences or outcomes such as preterm labor or uteroplacental insufficiency as encountered in pre-eclampsia.

Photo by Alexandr Gusev


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