Aberrant positioning of trophoblast and lymphocytes in the feto-maternal interface with pre-eclampsia
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- Stallmach, T., Hebisch, G., Orban, P. et al. Virchows Archiv (1999) 434: 207. doi:10.1007/s004280050329
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Pregnancy represents the growth of an allograft where fetal trophoblast cells evade immune rejection and invade maternal tissue. There should be a balance between fetal trophoblast and maternal immune-responsive cells and alterations in the proportion of these cells may relate to pregnancy disorders. To test this, the decidual tissue of placental bed biopsies was examined and trophoblast cells and lymphocytes were quantified morphometrically; spiral arteries were classified as unchanged, transformed or affected by acute atherosis. Normal pregnancy (n=19) was characterized by the transformation of about one half of all spiral arteries within the placental bed. We found that 40% of all lymphocytes were CD56+ uterine NK cells and 60%, CD3+ T-lymphocytes; about 30% of these were CD8+ T cells. Intrauterine growth retardation in the context of preeclampsia (n=15) was accompanied by reduced trophoblast numbers within smaller and more tortuous arteries and an increase in the proportion of CD56+ uterine NK cells and CD8+ T lymphocytes in the decidua (70% of all CD3+ cells). In the case of pre-eclampsia without fetal growth retardation (n=14) no increase in CD56+ uterine NK cells was seen, while CD8+ T lymphocytes were significantly increased compared with the normal level (50% of all CD3+ cells). Fetal growth retardation is associated with poor transformation of spiral arteries and characterized by an increase of uterine NK cells. Symptoms of pre-eclampsia are independently associated with an increase in the cytotoxic T subset of decidual lymphocytes. Pre-eclampsia and related fetal growth retardation are seemingly caused by an enhancement of the maternal cytotoxic defence against the fetal allograft.