Microchimerism (Mc) refers to harboring a small amount of cells or DNA from a genetically distinct individual. Many years after the physical union of mother and child ends fetal Mc is found in the mother and maternal Mc is found in her progeny. Fetal Mc and maternal Mc have been identified in children and adults, in blood and organs including heart, liver, spleen, kidney and pancreas. Despite the importance of the brain to human health and function a fundamental gap in knowledge exists for Mc in the human brain. That human brain is likely to contain fetal Mc in women and maternal Mc in her progeny is supported by recent experimental studies in which fetal Mc was identified in the maternal mouse brain and maternal Mc in the fetal mouse brain. Moreover, in experimental and human studies Mc appears to have the capacity to differentiate creating, for example, cardiac myocytes in the heart, islet b cells in the pancreas and hepatocytes in the liver. Studies in this proposal will for the first time identify and characterize naturally acquired fetal Mc and maternal Mc in the human brain. To establish fundamental initial knowledge fetal Mc prevalence, quantity and cell phenotypes will be determined across age and according to specific brain regions. To establish initial information about maternal Mc surgically excised brain specimens will be studied from patients with medication refractory epilepsy for whom family members participate. In these studies maternal Mc will be specifically assayed by HLA and other polymorphism specific quantitative PCR (qPCR). Participation of all family members will permit further evaluation for other potential Mc sources including from an older sibling, passed by the mother to the fetus of a subsequent pregnancy, or a vanished twin. The ways in which Mc could affect the human brain are multiple and diverse, both to the benefit and detriment of the individual. If naturally acquired Mc is a basic aspect of biology as we hypothesize, the proposed work will have created a foundation from which diverse disorders of the human brain can be investigated, including autoimmune, neoplastic, developmental and degenerative conditions.
Some cells traffic in both directions between a mother and fetus during pregnancy and surprisingly, small numbers of cells from the fetus persist in the mother, and from the mother in her children, including into adult life. These cells are likely to have both beneficial and adverse effects. A healthy brain is important to human functioning and studies in this proposal will investigate these naturally acquired fetal and maternal cells for the first time in the human brain.