During pregnancy some cells traffic from mother to fetus and from fetus to mother. Surprisingly, some mother's cells are found in her adult offspring and some cells from the fetus are found in the mother decades later. Microchimerism (Mc) refers to harboring a small number of cells or DNA from a genetically different individual. The overall goal of our research group is to elucidate the consequences of Mc for human health.
Naturally acquired Mc from pregnancy is likely to provide benefits but also probably sometimes has adverse effects. We study both beneficial and detrimental effects of Mc primarily for autoimmune diseases and cancer.
We initially proposed that retained cells from pregnancy contribute to autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are thought of as disorders in which a body's cells inexplicably attack its own normal tissues. The autoimmune diseases we study are scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Anne Stevens, MD, PhD, who previously worked with us investigates Mc in systemic lupus erythematosus.
The new Mc model was conceived by combining observations from different medical subspecialties. One observation came from transplantation, which also results in chimerism. In hematopoietic cell (or bone marrow) transplantation the recipient can develop an illness that looks like autoimmune disease. Another observation also derives from transplantation and has to do with a group of molecules called human leukocyte antigens (HLA) that are key determinants of transplantation success.