The Placental Barrier

Placental BarrierThe placenta is unlike any other human organ. Given its essential role in protecting the fetus, the placenta must function as a barrier and conduit between the maternal and fetal environments and serve as an active immunological tissue that responds to microbes present in the maternal circulation. Our research program asks two central questions:

  1. What are the mechanisms by which the placenta restricts the vertical transmission of microorganisms?
  2. How do microorganisms associated with congenital disease breach the placental barrier?

Our studies have established a new and important paradigm – that in addition to its role as a physical barrier, the placenta is a dynamic and highly reactive chemical barrier that uses multiple classes of molecules, including type III interferons and microRNAs, to protect the fetus and maternal host from viral infections. However, our investigations continue to probe important questions to learn if there are differences in the mechanisms employed by the placenta to restrict microbial access at different stages of gestation and to understand what mechanisms are used by the placenta to defend against non-viral pathogens. Further, we hope to define the influence of the systemic maternal immune response on placental antimicrobial defenses.