During pregnancy, the woman carries a fetus partly foreign to her immune system, because of the expression of paternal antigens. Despite this, the fetus is normally tolerated and not rejected, as is often the case with organs in allogeneic transplantations. Systemic changes in maternal blood occur during pregnancy but, perhaps of greater importance, are changes in tissues locally in the uterus. The pregnant uterine endometrium, the decidua, is infiltrated by large numbers of leukocytes, mainly natural killer (NK) cells but also macrophages and T lymphocytes. Further, various cytokines are known to be secreted at the fetomaternal interface. However, the functions of these cells and the cytokine networks are not fully understood. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the local immune balance in normal human pregnancy decidua, both in the early phase of pregnancy and at parturition.
First trimester decidual mononuclear cells, NK cells and macrophages were all shown to secrete IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-10, as detected by ELISPOT. The secretion was not mirrored in blood from the same subjects. A significantly larger number of decidual macrophages secreted IL-10 than did their blood counterparts, indicating potential regulatory functions of this cell type.
Further examination of early pregnancy decidual macrophages by microarray revealed 120 genes being differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in decidual compared to blood monocytes/macrophages. Several genes were associated with alternative activation/M2 polarization of macrophages, including CCL-18, CD209, IGF-1, MRC-1 and FN-1. Genes connected to immune regulation and tissue remodelling were common, in line with the potential functions for this cell type in utero. In addition, some molecules not previously connected to decidual macrophages, such as TREM-2, A2M and PGDS, were found to be upregulated, gaining new insights into the regulatory functions of decidual macrophages.
Term decidual mononuclear cells spontaneously secrete IFN-γ, TNF, IL-4, IL-10, and TGF-β. No differences were seen between tissues obtained before and after the onset of labour, indicating that decidual mononuclear cells are not the main cell population responsible for plausible cytokine regulation in the process of labour induction. Placental and fetal membranes as well as cells in the maternal systemic circulation may instead contribute to a possible shift in immune balance prior to pregnancy termination.
In conclusion, decidual leukocytes, including NK cells and macrophages, are potential producers of both Th1-like/pro-inflammatory and Th2-like/anti-inflammatory cytokines in early pregnancy as well as at parturition. Decidual macrophages are of a specialized phenotype with effector functions contributing to a proper invasion of the placenta and to immunological protection of the semi-allogeneic fetus. This thesis adds new knowledge on local immune balance during normal human pregnancy, however, the clinical significance of the presented data needs to be clarified.
Institutionen för klinisk och experimentell medicin , 2007. , 68 p.
2007-10-19, Berzeliussalen, Hälsouniversitetet, Universitetssjukhuset, Linköping, 09:00 (English)