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Earth’s orbit, testing in pregnancy — the week in infographics

We’re currently close to the Sun

This graphic shows how variations in the position of Earth in relation to the Sun — ranging from periapsis (the closest point in its orbit) to apoapsis (the farthest point) — cause small changes in the Sun’s gravitational potential on Earth over a timescale of months. (Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun during January.)

Researchers used this phenomenon in their studies on particles and their elusive twins, antiparticles. The team collected data over several months to assess how these changes affected the properties of the antiproton relative to the proton, as this News & Views article explains.

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Testing during pregnancy

Analysing RNA from maternal blood could be a non-invasive way to monitor the progression of pregnancy and to predict the potentially dangerous complication called pre‑eclampsia, as this graphic highlights.

RNA is released from maternal, fetal and placental tissues. Cell-free RNA (cfRNA) from the fetus can escape from fetal capillaries in placental structures called villi. Placental RNA can also pass into maternal blood, which already contains maternal RNA. Once in the maternal bloodstream, these RNA molecules can be sampled using a blood test.

In a Nature paper, researchers took samples from more than 1,800 pregnant individuals to establish the normally occurring changes in cfRNA at various stages of pregnancy, and generated a model to predict the development of pre-eclampsia. Such studies might in future help to identify and treat those at risk.

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How the brain encodes inflammation

How the nervous and immune systems interact is a hot topic in research. This graphic explains how a team used a model of inflammatory bowel disease to investigate whether intestinal inflammation leads to the activation of certain brain areas.

Mice given the chemical DSS in their drinking water develop intestinal inflammation, characterized by an increase in immune cells and leakiness in the gut wall (a). A paper in Cell reports that this inflammation activates neurons in a brain region called the insular cortex, or insula.

Reactivating these ‘immune-imprinted’ neurons later on triggers a recapitulation of the inflammatory response in the gut, suggesting that these neurons encode the immune system’s response.

The authors then showed (b) that artificial inhibition of neurons in the insula in mice could reduce some of the signs of inflammation caused by DSS.

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