Colorful pinwheel puts a new spin on mouse pregnancy

Award-winning image shows how the immune system influences placental development

image of nine mouse placentas

MOMMY MICE  A pregnant mouse’s placenta develops differently depending on her immune system. This wheel shows nine developing placentas, some with normal immune cells and some without. The image is one of the winners of the 2017 Wellcome Image Awards.

S. Nadkarni/William Harvey Research Institute/Queen Mary University of London, Wellcome Images

View slideshow of other winners

This rainbow pinwheel of mouse placentas isn’t just an eye-catching, award-winning image. The differences in color also provide researchers with new clues to how a mother’s immune system may affect her or her baby’s health during pregnancy. The work could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of preeclampsia, a common pregnancy complication. 

Suchita Nadkarni, an immunologist at Queen Mary University of London, used a technique called confocal microscopy to snap individual photos of nine mouse placentas. Arranging the images in a circle is “a really powerful way of seeing what’s going on in the placenta,” she says.

The image is one of the winners of the 2017 Wellcome Image Awards, an annual contest for scientific and medical images.

The circular arrangement shows how neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, affect placental development, Nadkarni says. The first five placentas (clockwise from top) are from mice with intact neutrophils, while the next four are from mice that had the white blood cells removed.

Neutrophils interact with T cells to promote blood vessel formation. Around the edges of the unaltered placentas, blood vessels (red) are prominent. The placentas from mothers that lacked neutrophils, however, haven’t properly developed blood vessels or other internal structures. Cell nuclei (blue) and specialized placenta cells called trophoblasts (green) are also shown.

If placental blood vessels don’t develop normally, the embryo may not get enough nutrients or oxygen. In people, abnormal neutrophils have been connected to preeclampsia. Seeing these colorized structures, Nadkarni says, can help researchers tease out the role that neutrophils play in placental development, which could lead to better diagnostic tools for preeclampsia.

Seeing science

These scientific snapshots were also winners of the 2017 Wellcome Image Awards.

zebrafish eye
EYE CANDY To study a gene in a developing zebrafish eye, researchers bred fish so the gene glows red when activated in the lens of the eye (red circle in center). Part of the fish’s nervous system (teal) and specialized cells called neuromasts (red dots), which detect water movement, are also shown. Ingrid Lekk and Steve Wilson/University College London, Wellcome Images
Hawaiian bobtail squid
STARLIGHT, STARBRIGHT A Hawaiian bobtail squid is a hospitable host for a colony of Vibrio fischeri, a luminous species of bacteria. An ink sack (shown in the center of the squid’s mantle) acts like a shutter and controls the amount of light released by the bacteria. The action lets the nocturnal squid mimic moonlight and starlight to camouflage itself and hide from predators. Mark R. Smith, Macroscopic Solutions, Wellcome Images
polarized light microscopy image of cat skin
CAT’S OUT OF THE BAG A technique called polarized light microscopy turns this composite image of cat skin into a rainbow. By sending certain orientations of light through the skin, whiskers and fine hairs look yellow; the blood vessels, in black, become visible and other parts of the skin light up as pink and orange. David Linstead, Wellcome Images
parrot brain
BIRD BRAIN Almost 3,000 CT scans were compiled into one to make a 3-D reconstruction (head shown) of an African grey parrot’s blood vessels, brain and other organs. The technique could help researchers study animals’ vascular systems. Scott Birch and Scott Echols, Wellcome Images
pig's eye
PRINTER PERFECT It took 39 hours to 3-D print this model of a mini-pig’s eye, mapped from a CT scan. The crater-looking figure on the right of the eye is the pupil, and the mass of lines are blood vessels. Peter M. Maloca/Univ. of Basel and Moorfields Eye Hospital, Christian Schwaller, Ruslan Hlushchuk/Univ. of Bern, Sébastien Barré, Wellcome Images
visualization of tweets
TWEET-O-SPHERE Researchers analyzed more than 90,000 tweets that contained the hashtag #breastcancer to create this graphic visualization of Twitter data. Each dot represents a Twitter user, and the lines connect users that retweeted or mentioned each other. Eric Clarke, Richard Arnett and Jane Burns/Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Wellcome Images

More Stories from Science News on Animals

From the Nature Index

Paid Content