Fetal cells traffic to injured maternal myocardium and undergo cardiac differentiation

Rina J. Kara, Paola Bolli, Ioannis Karakikes, Iwao Matsunaga, Joseph Tripodi, Omar Tanweer, Perry Altman, Neil S. Shachter, Austin Nakano, Vesna Najfeld, Hina W. Chaudhry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Rationale: Fetal cells enter the maternal circulation during pregnancy and may persist in maternal tissue for decades as microchimeras. Objective: Based on clinical observations of peripartum cardiomyopathy patients and the high rate of recovery they experience from heart failure, our objective was to determine whether fetal cells can migrate to the maternal heart and differentiate to cardiac cells. Methods and Results: We report that fetal cells selectively home to injured maternal hearts and undergo differentiation into diverse cardiac lineages. Using enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP)-tagged fetuses, we demonstrate engraftment of multipotent fetal cells in injury zones of maternal hearts. In vivo, eGFP+ fetal cells form endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and cardiomyocytes. In vitro, fetal cells isolated from maternal hearts recapitulate these differentiation pathways, additionally forming vascular tubes and beating cardiomyocytes in a fusion-independent manner; ≈40% of fetal cells in the maternal heart express Caudal-related homeobox2 (Cdx2), previously associated with trophoblast stem cells, thought to solely form placenta. Conclusions: Fetal maternal stem cell transfer appears to be a critical mechanism in the maternal response to cardiac injury. Furthermore, we have identified Cdx2 cells as a novel cell type for potential use in cardiovascular regenerative therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalCirculation Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 6 Jan 2012


  • Cdx2
  • cardiac repair
  • cardiomyocyte regeneration
  • fetal stem cells
  • microchimerism


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