Small portions of male DNA, most likely left over in a mother's body by a male fetus can be detected in the maternal brain relatively frequently, according to a report published Sep. 26 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by William Chan of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and his colleagues.
The process, called fetal 'microchimerism (Mc)', is common in other tissues such as blood, but this is the first evidence of male Mc in the human female brain. Microchimerism can be both beneficial and harmful to maternal health, since it is associated with processes such as tissue repair, as well as to autoimmune diseases.
Testing for the presence of a particular region of the Y-chromosome in autopsied brain tissues, the research team discovered that 63% of their samples showed potentially long-lasting Mc in multiple brain regions. They also found that women with Alzheimer's disease (AD) had less Mc than women without the disease.
According to the authors, this result warrants further investigation because previous reports have suggested that AD may be more prevalent in women with a higher number of pregnancies compared to childless women. The researchers commented that changes to the blood-brain barrier that occur during pregnancy could facilitate the process by which Mc is acquired into the human brain.
"This is the first evidence that microchimerism can cross the blood-brain barrier to establish male fetal tissue in the human female brain" says Chan.
Citation: Chan WFN, Gurnot C, Montine TJ, Sonnen JA, Guthrie KA, et al. (2012) Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain. PLOS ONE 7(9): e45592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045592
Financial Disclosure: This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NS 071418 and AI-41721 to JLN). WFNC was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellowship Award (SIB-95173). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.