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Nanoplastics cross through placenta from mother to fetus in vivo

Tiny plastic fragments ingested during pregnancy can cross the placenta to expose the unborn fetus, according to an NIEHS-funded study using rats. These miniscule pieces, collectively called micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs), appear throughout the environment and food web. Humans inadvertently consume MNPs in contaminated water or food, and research suggests that MNP exposure during pregnancy adversely affects birth outcomes and fetal health.

To move from mother to fetus, ingested MNPs must first breach the wall of the intestine to access the mother’s circulatory system and subsequently cross the placenta to reach the fetal blood stream and tissues. The researchers tracked this movement by exposing pregnant rats to nanoplastic spheres through a feeding tube. A day later, they used specialized imaging techniques to identify and visualize the nanoplastics that had accumulated in placental and fetal tissues.

They discovered abundant nanoplastics within placental and fetal tissues. They observed nanoplastics in all fetal tissues examined, including the liver, kidney, heart, lung, and brain, where they amassed in large clusters. This clustering suggests that nanoplastics may have been taken up by fetal blood cells, said the authors.

The findings demonstrate that ingested MNPs can traverse the intestinal and placental barriers to reach fetal circulation and tissues, according to the authors. They called for additional research to examine how particle size, shape, and other properties may affect MNP movement throughout the body and to understand potential health implications of fetal MNP exposure.

Citation: Cary CM, DeLoid GM, Yang Z, Bitounis D, Polunas M, Goedken MJ, Buckley B, Cheatham B, Stapleton PA, Demokritou P. 2023. 

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Source: Environmental Factor (May 2023)

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