Neuroplacentology: the Study of Connections Between the Placenta and Brain Disorders

May 02, 2022

New Area of Research Could Be Important for Autism

Spectrum Magazine recently published a fascinating interview with Anna Penn, an associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University who coined the term “neuroplacentology ” a decade ago.  Simply put, neuroplacentology is an emerging research area which explores the influences of the placenta on normal and pathological fetal brain development. Even though the placenta is a temporary organ and exists only during pregnancy, it is now being recognized as important to study in order to identify changes that can occur in the brain during fetal development. Some of these changes have previously been associated with autism. In the current interview, Penn shares several important insights regarding the placenta and its critical role for brain development. She explains that the placenta can act as a proxy to discover how the fetal brain develops. Penn also points out that the placenta is actually part of the fetus and not part of the mother, as many people erroneously believe. Additionally, she details the many roles that the placenta plays in the fetus’ body, which include being a neuroendocrine organ that also acts like a filter. Penn also added that the placenta is responsive to nutrients and produces chemicals, like serotonin. In the future, Penn hopes that the organ can be used to make a placenta-based autism screening test that could combine genetic information with environmental information which would include placental function. She hopes a test like this can be developed in the next decade.  


Original Article 

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