Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Myriam Hemberger

Research Summary

The focus of our work is on the establishment, maintenance and differentiation of trophoblast cells leading to formation of a functional placenta. The placenta is the defining organ of most mammals, providing a nutritive conduit that is crucial for all embryonic development to occur. Trophoblast cells are the major building blocks of the developing placenta. They are the first cell type to arise very early in development when they are set apart from cells giving rise to the embryo itself. The various functions of trophoblast cells early in development are vital for reproductive success, as they lay the foundations for a normal pregnancy and healthy foetus later on. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying these early events will be critical to develop better screens and therapeutic avenues for pregnancy complications.
 
We are in particular interested in how the early trophoblast niche is regulated by transcription factors and specific epigenetic modifiers to ensure normal development. Leading on from this, we also investigate how susceptible the trophoblast compartment is to perturbations by extrinsic factors that activate specific signalling cascades, including in the context of development in mothers of advanced age. For this we are taking a range of high-throughput epigenomic and transcriptomic approaches to study these early events in placental development.
 
Key among our tools is the use of murine trophoblast stem (TS) cells, which mimic many of the properties of the early placenta. Learning about the self-renewal mechanisms of TS cells, in comparison to embryonic stem (ES) cells, will help us uncover the fundamental principles of how the early placenta develops and is influenced by external factors, which may be predictive for life long physiology and health. These insights will also enable us to better understand the earliest steps in human placentation and to develop novel cellular research tools to study the underlying molecular processes.

Latest Publications

A Critical Role of TET1/2 Proteins in Cell-Cycle Progression of Trophoblast Stem Cells.
Chrysanthou S, Senner CE, Woods L, Fineberg E, Okkenhaug H, Burge S, Perez-Garcia V, Hemberger M

The ten-eleven translocation (TET) proteins are well known for their role in maintaining naive pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. Here, we demonstrate that, jointly, TET1 and TET2 also safeguard the self-renewal potential of trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) and have partially redundant roles in maintaining the epithelial integrity of TSCs. For the more abundantly expressed TET1, we show that this is achieved by binding to critical epithelial genes, notably E-cadherin, which becomes hyper-methylated and downregulated in the absence of TET1. The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition phenotype of mutant TSCs is accompanied by centrosome duplication and separation defects. Moreover, we identify a role of TET1 in maintaining cyclin B1 stability, thereby acting as facilitator of mitotic cell-cycle progression. As a result, Tet1/2 mutant TSCs are prone to undergo endoreduplicative cell cycles leading to the formation of polyploid trophoblast giant cells. Taken together, our data reveal essential functions of TET proteins in the trophoblast lineage.

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Stem cell reports, , 2213-6711, , 2018

PMID: 29576538

Integrin α2 marks a niche of trophoblast progenitor cells in first trimester human placenta
Lee CQE, Turco M, Gardner L, Simons B, Hemberger M, Moffett A

During pregnancy the trophoblast cells of the placenta are the only fetal cells in direct contact with maternal blood and decidua. Their functions include transport of nutrients and oxygen, secretion of pregnancy hormones, remodelling the uterine arteries, and communicating with maternal cells. Despite the importance of trophoblast cells in placental development and successful pregnancy, little is known about the identity, location and differentiation of human trophoblast progenitors. We identify a proliferative trophoblast niche at the base of the cytotrophoblast cell columns in first trimester placentas that is characterised by integrin α2 (ITGA2) expression. Pulse-chase experiments with 5-Iodo-2'-deoxyuridine (IdU) imply that these cells can contribute to both villous (VCT) and extravillous (EVT) lineages. These proliferating trophoblast cells can be isolated using ITGA2 as a marker by flow cytometry and express genes from both VCT and EVT. Microarray expression analysis shows that ITAG2cells display a unique transcriptional signature including NOTCH signalling and a combination of epithelial and mesenchymal characteristics. ITGA2 thus marks a niche allowing the study of pure populations of trophoblast progenitor cells.

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Development (Cambridge, England), , 1477-9129, , 2018

PMID: 29540503

Placentation defects are highly prevalent in embryonic lethal mouse mutants.
Perez-Garcia V, Fineberg E, Wilson R, Murray A, Mazzeo CI, Tudor C, Sienerth A, White JK, Tuck E, Ryder EJ, Gleeson D, Siragher E, Wardle-Jones H, Staudt N, Wali N, Collins J, Geyer S, Busch-Nentwich EM, Galli A, Smith JC, Robertson E, Adams DJ, Weninger WJ, Mohun T, Hemberger M

Large-scale phenotyping efforts have demonstrated that approximately 25-30% of mouse gene knockouts cause intrauterine lethality. Analysis of these mutants has largely focused on the embryo and not the placenta, despite the crucial role of this extraembryonic organ for developmental progression. Here we screened 103 embryonic lethal and sub-viable mouse knockout lines from the Deciphering the Mechanisms of Developmental Disorders program for placental phenotypes. We found that 68% of knockout lines that are lethal at or after mid-gestation exhibited placental dysmorphologies. Early lethality (embryonic days 9.5-14.5) is almost always associated with severe placental malformations. Placental defects correlate strongly with abnormal brain, heart and vascular development. Analysis of mutant trophoblast stem cells and conditional knockouts suggests that a considerable number of factors that cause embryonic lethality when ablated have primary gene function in trophoblast cells. Our data highlight the hugely under-appreciated importance of placental defects in contributing to abnormal embryo development and suggest key molecular nodes that govern placenta formation.

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Nature, , 1476-4687, , 2018

PMID: 29539633

Group Members

Latest Publications

A Critical Role of TET1/2 Proteins in Cell-Cycle Progression of Trophoblast Stem Cells.

Chrysanthou S, Senner CE, Woods L

Stem cell reports
2213-6711: (2018)

PMID: 29576538

Integrin α2 marks a niche of trophoblast progenitor cells in first trimester human placenta

Lee CQE, Turco M, Gardner L

Development (Cambridge, England)
1477-9129: (2018)

PMID: 29540503

Placentation defects are highly prevalent in embryonic lethal mouse mutants.

Perez-Garcia V, Fineberg E, Wilson R

Nature
1476-4687: (2018)

PMID: 29539633

Decidualisation and placentation defects are a major cause of age-related reproductive decline.

Woods L, Perez-Garcia V, Kieckbusch J

Nature communications
8 2041-1723:352 (2017)

PMID: 28874785

Long-term, hormone-responsive organoid cultures of human endometrium in a chemically defined medium.

Turco MY, Gardner L, Hughes J

Nature cell biology
1476-4679: (2017)

PMID: 28394884

From the stem of the placental tree: trophoblast stem cells and their progeny.

Latos PA, Hemberger M

Development (Cambridge, England)
143 1477-9129:3650-3660 (2016)

PMID: 27802134

What Is Trophoblast? A Combination of Criteria Define Human First-Trimester Trophoblast.

Lee CQ, Gardner L, Turco M

Stem cell reports
6 2213-6711:257-72 (2016)

PMID: 26862703

Maternal DNA Methylation Regulates Early Trophoblast Development.

Branco MR, King M, Perez-Garcia V

Developmental cell
36 1878-1551:152-63 (2016)

PMID: 26812015

Direct Induction of Trophoblast Stem Cells from Murine Fibroblasts.

Kubaczka C, Senner CE, Cierlitza M

Cell stem cell
17 1875-9777:557-68 (2015)

PMID: 26412560