Placental regulation of maternal-fetal interactions and brain development
A variety prenatal insults are associated with the incidence of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and cerebral palsy. While the precise mechanisms underlying how transient gestational challenges can lead to later life dysfunctions are largely unknown, the placenta is likely to play a key role. The literal interface between maternal and fetal cells resides in the placenta, and disruptions to the maternal or intrauterine environment are necessarily conveyed to the developing embryo via the placenta. Placental cells bear the responsibility of promoting maternal tolerance of the semiallogeneic fetus and regulating selective permeability of nutrients, gases, and antibodies, while still providing physiological protection of the embryo from adversity. The placenta's critical role in modulating immune protection and the availability of nutrients and endocrine factors to the offspring implicates its involvement in autoimmunity, growth restriction and hypoxia, all factors associated with the development of neurological complications. In this review, we summarize primary maternal-fetal interactions that occur in the placenta and describe pathways by which maternal insults can impair these processes and disrupt fetal brain development. We also review emerging evidence for placental dysfunction in the prenatal programming of neurodevelopmental disorders.
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Received 24 May 2012; revised 9 June 2012; accepted 19 June 2012. Article first published online: 23 Aug. 2012.