Sunday, April 24, 2011

Placenta Boosts Baby's Brain Development

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The human placenta plays an active role in synthesizing serotonin. Credit: Getty Images

There's nothing really pretty about the placenta, but don't downplay it's role in your baby's intelligence.

A recent study finds the human placenta plays an active role in synthesizing serotonin, the chemical related to mood, and can have widespread implications for new treatment strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease and mental illness, according to a release from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern Californa.

Researchers found placenta plays a critical role in the baby's brain development, feeding serotonin directly to the fetus' brain, and not through the mother's blood supply as medical experts thought for the last 60 years, according to the release. The research will be published in the journal Nature.

The findings could help explain what leads to brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, NPR reports, and it shows that placenta does a lot more than simply transport nutrients from a mother to her unborn baby.

"The placenta is not just a passive bag of cells sitting there just allowing things to flow freely between the mom and the fetus," Pat Levitt, director of the Zilhka Neurogenetic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine, tells NPR. "We can think of it as a machine that can produce its own hormones, its own chemicals that can have an effect on the developing fetus itself."

The findings could play a significant role in preventing many chronic mental health problems including anxiety disorders, learning and emotional disabilities and depression, allowing physicians to perform targeted therapies to treat the mother without affecting the fetus or vice-versa, the release states.

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