Evidence for bystander signalling between human trophoblast cells and human embryonic stem cells

Anna J Jones, Paul J Gokhale, Thomas F Allison, Barry Sampson, Sharan Athwal, Simon R Grant, Peter W Andrews, Nicholas D Allen, C Patrick Case

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
258 Downloads (Pure)


Maternal exposure during pregnancy to toxins can occasionally lead to miscarriage and malformation. It is currently thought that toxins pass through the placental barrier, albeit bi-layered in the first trimester, and damage the fetus directly, albeit at low concentration. Here we examined the responses of human embryonic stem (hES) cells in tissue culture to two metals at low concentration. We compared direct exposures with indirect exposures across a bi-layered model of the placenta cell barrier. Direct exposure caused increased DNA damage without apoptosis or a loss of cell number but with some evidence of altered differentiation. Indirect exposure caused increased DNA damage and apoptosis but without loss of pluripotency. This was not caused by metal ions passing through the barrier. Instead the hES cells responded to signalling molecules (including TNF-α) secreted by the barrier cells. This mechanism was dependent on connexin 43 mediated intercellular 'bystander signalling' both within and between the trophoblast barrier and the hES colonies. These results highlight key differences between direct and indirect exposure of hES cells across a trophoblast barrier to metal toxins. It offers a theoretical possibility that an indirectly mediated toxicity of hES cells might have biological relevance to fetal development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11694
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2015


  • Apoptosis
  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Pluripotent stem cells
  • Stem cells


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