Study finds new evidence that fetal membranes can heal thems
Scientists from Queen Mary University of London and UCL have shown that fetal membranes can repair themselves after injury. The integrity of the fetal membranes that surround the baby in the womb during pregnancy is vital for normal development. But fetal membranes can become damaged as a result of infection, bleeding, or after fetal surgery and even diagnostic tests during pregnancy, such as amniocentesis, which requires doctors to make a hole with a needle in the fetal membrane sac.

Currently, there are no clinical approaches available to repair or improve healing in the fetal membranes, and until now it was unclear if small holes in the membranes were able to heal themselves. The international research team, created small defects using a needle in donated human fetal membrane tissue, to mimic damage caused during fetal surgery.

A few days after injury, the researchers discovered a population of cells called myofibroblasts (MFs), which play an important role in wound healing, and found that these cells crawled towards the edges of the wound and into the defect site. This cell population produced collagen and started to pull the edges of the wound, contracting the tissues together and repairing the wound.

The findings follow from the team's previous work that highlighted the importance of a protein called Connexin 43 (Cx43) in the process of wound healing and repair. Whilst in this study, the researchers show that Cx43 was expressed by two cell populations, amniotic mesenchymal cells (AMCs) and MFs, the localisation and levels of Cx43 measured were different.

They also found that overexpression of this protein affected the ability of cells to migrate into the defect site and close the wound. Dr Tina Chowdhury, Senior Lecturer in Regenerative Medicine at Queen Mary, said: "We have always thought that small diameter wounds created in human fetal membranes rarely heal by themselves but here we show that the tissues have the potential to do this."

Dr Chowdhury added, "We found that Cx43 has different effects on cell populations found in the membranes and promotes the transformation of AMCs into MFs, triggering them to move, repair, and heal defects in the fetal membranes." The premature rupture of fetal membranes, known as the preterm prelabour rupture of the membranes (PPROM), is a major cause of preterm birth accounting for around 40 percent of early infant death. Therefore, the successful repair of fetal membranes could help reduce the risk of birth complications.