Womb pressure impact on facial development explored

Embryos are sensitive to pressure.


Research from UCL shows that physical cues such as pressure changes in the womb can impact the correct growth of neural crest cells, which generate face features throughout embryonic development.

The study discovered that in mouse, frog, and human embryoid embryos (cell structures grown in the lab from human stem cells), an increase in hydrostatic pressure sensed by the embryo can impede the healthy development of facial features. This suggests that variations in pressure influence the risk of facial malformations.

The risk of craniofacial deformities increases considerably when neural crest cells are exposed to pressure levels above normal, causing significant disruptions to critical cell signaling pathways.

Lead author Professor Roberto Mayor explained that embryos are sensitive to pressure changes, suggesting that genetics and physical cues in the womb could influence facial malformations.”

“When an organism experiences a change in pressure, all the cells—including the embryo inside the mother—can sense it.”

This work shows that embryos are pressure-sensitive. But, it was not known how sensitive they were. Further research is needed to understand how changes in pressure, both inside the body and in the environment, might affect human embryo development.

This finding expands on earlier research by Professor Mayor and colleagues, which showed that the formation of the skull and facial features depends on the growing embryo’s cells’ ability to detect the stiffness of surrounding cells.

The researchers say their findings could also have implications for stem cell research. The study indicates that the development and differentiation (the process of stem cells becoming specialised cells) of stem cells are under the influence of pressure. Understanding this connection could transform scientists’ manipulation of stem cells for various therapeutic purposes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Alasaadi, D.N., Alvizi, L., Hartmann, J. et al. Competence for neural crest induction is controlled by hydrostatic pressure through Yap. Nat Cell Biol 26, 530–541 (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41556-024-01378-y


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