Protecting fetal development

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Science  12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6449, pp. 118-119
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay2054

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The interferon-induced transmembrane (IFITM) protein family includes members that protect multiple cell types from infection by many viruses by preventing the fusion of virus envelopes with host cell membranes (1). The syncytiotrophoblast at the maternal-fetal interface of the placenta develops through cell-cell fusion of cytotrophoblast cells by a mechanism akin to virus-cell fusion (see the figure). This cell fusion is mediated by syncytins. These are membrane glycoproteins encoded by ancient endogenous retroviral envelope genes, which were acquired and have become repurposed for placental development (2). On page 176 of this issue, Buchrieser et al. (3) show that interferon stimulation causes IFITM expression in trophoblast cells, which blocks syncytin-mediated cell fusion, and that interferon stimulation also leads to placental dysfunction and fetal resorption in wild-type mice, but not in mice lacking Ifitm genes. These findings have implications for understanding how infections and other complications during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage.