What did you tell your mother? Communication between the embryo and the mother | Institute of Clinical Medicine of University of Tartu

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Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, 51003 Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
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    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
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    Näituse 20–324, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Social Studies
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    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Narva College
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  • Pärnu College
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    Ringi 35, 80012 Pärnu
Faculty of Medicine
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+372 737 5326
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Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
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    +372 737 5326
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
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    +372 737 4210
    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Pharmacy
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    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
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  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
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  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
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    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 2, 50409 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 2, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5011
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4510
    Faculty address: 
    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4800
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5835
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5702
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5581
    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6076
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5606
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6339
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, III floor, 51003 Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6600
    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5137
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Finance Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5125
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
  • Grant Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6215
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, III floor, 51003 Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6000, IT-help: +372 737 5500
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5145
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
  • Internal Audit Office
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 17–103, 51005 Tartu
  • Marketing and Communication Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5687
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 102, 104, 209, 210, 50090 Tartu
  • Office of Academic Affairs
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5620
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Procurement Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6632
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5600
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5400
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18b, 51005 Tartu
Other Units
  • University of Tartu Academic Sports Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5371
    Faculty address: 
    Ujula 4, 51008 Tartu
  • Tartu Student Village
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 9959
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 25, 51013 Tartu
  • Tartu Students’ Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 730 2400
    Faculty address: 
    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5945
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

What did you tell your mother? Communication between the embryo and the mother

Written by: Alireza Fazeli, Professor of Clinical Genomics and Personalized Medicine at the University of Tartu Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine.

We have all been tormented by mosquitos in the summer time and thought “what a nuisance these creatures are”. But did you know that you and the mosquito had something very fundamental in common? Yes, you, and me of course, were literally parasites at one point of our life. We were completely dependent on someone else for every bodily requirement. I am talking, of course, about the nine months or so we spent inside our mothers.

For all practical purposes, an embryo is a parasite feeding on the ample bounty of the mothers being. Even though half of it is made out of the mother’s body, it develops an identity of its own before it attaches to the mother’s body in the fifth day of fertilization. If any other parasite tries to attach to a human being, the defences of the body would launch a serious attack on that parasite. We would do everything possible to prevent the parasite attaching and holding on. But uniquely, the embryo gets no such opposition from the legions of defences in the human body. The main question I try to answer in my studies is: why?

Scientists have noticed that this lack of response has something to do with the endometrium, the topmost layer of the uterus. In addition to changing dramatically during the menstrual cycle, the endometrium also changes in very specific ways when it is expecting an embryo. This time period, which can last 4 days, is called the “window of implantation”.

One way to explain the reason the endometrium would identify the embryo as a non-threat and change itself to accept the embryo is a series of communication between the embryo and the mother. In other words, we, at the tender age of five days after fertilization, communicated to our mother that we are not a dangerous parasite, but a potential child trying to attach to our mothers. Finding “what did you tell your mother” to convince her that you are not a threat is my main research aim.

To learn this language, we face a daunting obstacle. How do we check if there is a communication between the embryo and the mother? It would be horribly unethical to collect samples of implanted embryo. Luckily there is a scientific method of mimicking the conditions in a uterus just before implantation. The Transgeno research group in Tartu University started to use cancer cells that mimic the characteristics of trophoblast, the outer cell layer of embryo, and cells that mimic the endometrium. They labelled the “trophoblast” cells to track down messages from the embryo into the “endometrium” and found that there indeed is a communication between the embryo and the endometrium and the mode of this communication is RNA. (1, 2)

The Transgeno group then started to look more closely towards the actual method of this communication. We were interested in the potential of extracellular vesicles. Extracellular vesicles are the cargo ships of the cell world. Tiny, about ten thousandth of a millimetre big, these are bags that travel between cells carrying essential goods. We isolated the extracellular vesicles produced by the trophoblast and added them to the endometrium. We were able to see the same communication happening when we just used extracellular vesicles of trophoblast instead of the trophoblast itself. The good thing about this finding is that, in the future, we can use extracellular vesicles to increase the rate of implantation by artificially signalling the endometrium.

To sum up, one third of all failed pregnancies happen due to failure of implantation. If the reasons for this condition are discovered, we can increase the conception rate tremendously. In countries with fledgling birth rates, this would be a huge help to stabilize the population.