Genetic signals from the mother affect gene expression of the unborn child in the placenta

20 June 2017

BPRC - 1. Genetic signals from the mother affect gene expression of the unborn child in the placenta

Each cell in the body contains the same DNA, the genetic code that determines which proteins may be produced by a cell. However, the proteins that are produced differ significantly between cells of different tissues. Similarly, the timing of expression and the expression levels are regulated in a complex manner at different levels. For example, certain molecules such as methyl groups can bind to specific parts of the DNA. Such genetic modification often leads to suppression of the transcription of the gene and the associated protein production.

In a fertilized egg, DNA is present from both the mother and the father. During the development to an embryo, the genetic marking signals of both parents are largely reprogrammed. However, in specific parts of the DNA, the previously mentioned genetic modifications derived from the father or mother remain intact.

To get more knowledge about the fate of genetic markings during embryonic development, researchers have compared different datasets made at different times during development. They found that many of the mother's genetic modifications were not erased and remained present in the placenta. These marks had a direct effect on the expression of adjacent genes in a number of cases. This research, to which BPRC scientists have contributed, shows that in this respect there are large similarities between humans and monkeys, while the differences between humans and rodents, such as mice, are significantly larger. Whether the findings of this work, published in the leading magazine Plos Genetics (, relate to the course of a pregnancy needs to be further explored.