Male DNA is commonly found in the brains of women, most likely derived from prior pregnancy with a male fetus, according to first-of-its-kind research conducted at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While the medical implications of male DNA and male cells in the brain are unknown, studies of other kinds of microchimerism — the harboring of genetic material and cells that were exchanged between fetus and mother during pregnancy — have linked the phenomenon to autoimmune diseases and cancer, sometimes for better and other times for worse.
The study findings are published Sept. 26 in PLOS ONE. Lead author William F. N. Chan, Ph.D., in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta, conducted the research while working in the Hutchinson Center laboratory of J. Lee Nelson, M.D., a member of the Center’s Clinical Research Division and a leading international authority on microchimerism. Nelson is senior author on the paper.