Cell mapping and ’mini placentas’ shed light onto human pregnancy

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Researchers have revealed what happens in the early stages of placental developm
Researchers have revealed what happens in the early stages of placental development, a process crucial for a successful pregnancy. Credits: Kenny Roberts, Wellcome Sanger Institute.

For the first time, researchers have mapped the full trajectory of placental development. Their work could offer new insights into pregnancy disorders and help develop better experimental models of the human placenta.

Researchers from the FMI led by Margherita Yayoi Turco, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute have created an in-depth picture of how the placenta develops and communicates with the uterus.

The team used single-cell genomics and spatial transcriptomics technologies to analyze a rare historical set of samples, capturing the process of placental development in unprecedented detail. These techniques allowed the researchers to see all the cell types involved in the early stages of placenta formation and uncover how some placenta cells communicate with the uterine environment around them.

"Using a systems biology approach, this work captures and describes the specialised placental extravillous trophoblast cells as they invade the maternal uterus during early pregnancy in humans. It provides an essential resource that will help improve our understanding of the maternal-fetal interactions that are critical for a successful pregnancy," Turco says. "Our knowledge about early placentation in humans is limited. Only with the combination of expertise from computational biology, human reproduction and organoids/stem cell model systems, and with the use of historical and rare pregnant hysterectomy samples, has it been possible to shed light on the processes occurring during this critical time that determines pregnancy outcome."

The study, published in Nature, is part of the Human Cell Atlas - an initiative to chart all cell types in the human body.


Anna Arutyunyan, Kenny Roberts, Kevin Troulé, Frederick C. K. Wong, Megan A. Sheridan, Ilia Kats, Luz Garcia-Alonso, Britta Velten, Regina Hoo, Elias R. Ruiz-Morales, Carmen Sancho-Serra, Jarrod Shilts, Louis-Francois Handfield, Luca Marconato, Elizabeth Tuck, Lucy Gardner, Cecilia Icoresi Mazzeo, Qian Li, Iva Kelava, Gavin J. Wright, Elena Prigmore, Sarah A. Teichmann, Omer Ali Bayraktar*, Ashley Moffett*, Oliver Stegle*, Margherita Y. Turco* & Roser Vento-Tormo* Spatial multiomics map of trophoblast development in early pregnancy Nature (2023) Online advance publication
*co-corresponding authors