Scientists had just discovered how placenta avoid being attacked by the mother's immune system: it fools the body's defenses by acting like a parasitic worm!
The placenta plays a vital role in pregnancy, acting as a link between the mother and foetus and providing it with essential nutrients.
However, as both the placenta and foetus have a different genetic make-up from the mother, in theory they are at risk of attack from her immune system.
The researchers already knew that the placenta secreted a small protein - neurokinin B (NKB) - which is found in significantly higher levels in mothers when pre-eclampsia develops. [...]
However, they found that the placental form of the protein did not react in the same way as the form they had been using in the laboratory.
It was clear that a modification was occurring during the synthesis of the protein by the placenta. Further investigation revealed that placental NKB contained the molecule phosphocholine, which is used by the parasitic nematode worm to avoid attack by the immune system of the host in which it lives.