Hide menu

Placenta protects foetus from mother’s immune system

The immune system of the mother-to-be is a deadly threat to the foetus, and must therefore be weakened during pregnancy. New research shows that this adjustment is controlled by the placenta.

The foetus gets half of its genetic material from the father, which means it is perceived as an intruder in the mother’s body. To prevent rejection, the immune cells in the womb get an anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressant character. It was previously believed that the mother’s immune system controlled this adjustment itself. But now a study from Linköping University shows that the placenta – which develops from the foetus and is therefore a foreign organ – has an important role in this process.

The study, carried out by a research team led by doctoral student Judit Svensson-Arvelund and Professor Jan Ernerudh has been published in the latest issue of the prestigious Journal of Immunology.

The research group wants to understand how the mother’s immune system is controlled in order to ensure a successful pregnancy, and what factors can lead to complications. Previously the group has shown that particular immune cells - regulatory T cells and macrophages – are important for creating tolerance and preventing excessive inflammation in the womb. However the mechanisms that drive the development of these cells have not been known.

A section of the placenta shown through a microscopeThe new study shows that factors from the placenta can control the development of regulatory T cells and macrophages with anti-inflammatory qualities, and that they can prevent a general activation of the immune system. The researchers identified a number of key molecules, including Interleukin-10 and the growth factor M-CSF.

Hence the placenta has a unique, built-in ability to create immunological tolerance, thus securing the development of the foetus.

The next important step is to analyse whether the identified substances can be used as biomarkers for early detection of pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, pre-eclampsia or prematurity. The group plans to use blood samples from a pregnancy biobank that was started at Kvinnohälsan, a women’s health clinic in Linköping, and that includes more than 4,500 women. The biobank is a collaboration between LiU researchers and Kvinnokliniken, the women’s health clinic at Linköping University Hospital.

”In the longer term we hope the results can make it easier to predict complications and give preventive treatment. This knowledge also provides clues as to how the immune system can be effectively instructed, which can also be used when treating illnesses with chronic inflammation, such as multiple sclerosis,” says Prof Ernerudh.

The article has been recognised as one of the seven most interesting in the journal’s February issue.

Picture: A specimen from a placenta, where the coloured cells around the perimeter produce the growth factor M-CSF.


Article: The human fetal placenta promotes tolerance against the semiallogeneic fetus by inducing regulatory T cells and homeostatic M2 macrophages, by J. Svensson-Arvelund, R. B. Mehta, R. Lindau, E. Mirrasekhian, H. Rodriguez-Martinez, G. Berg, G. E. Lash, M. C. Jenmalm and J. Ernerudh. Journal of Immunology 194, 15 February 2015. doi: 10.4049/​jimmunol.1401536


Related content

Åke Hjelm 2015-02-26

HIV virus in disguise tricks immune system

The HIV virus avoids the body’s immune cells by disguising itself using proteins that normally take part in the defence against infections. These are the findings of research conducted at the Division of Molecular Virology.

University Hospital

Linköping University Hospital named best hospital in Sweden

Linköping University Hospital has been named best hospital in Sweden for 2014 by the daily paper Dagens Medicin. The south-east Sweden healthcare region also had top hospitals among the small and medium-sized hospital categories.

Infant eczema often leads to asthma

Eczema in an infant is a clear warning sign for further allergies as the child gets older. In a recently published study from Linköping University, almost one third of all the children with eczema developed asthma by the age of ten.

Johnny Ludvigsson among top ten

The medical database Expertscape has ranked LiU researcher Johnny Ludvigsson among the world's top ten experts in research on type 1 diabetes.

Tougher on the tumour, gentler on the patient

Using MRI technology, the project Gentle Radiotherapy aims to realise the vision of individualised cancer treatment, with better results and fewer side effects. Peter Lundberg, professor at Linköping University, is part of the project.

Blood platelets disinfected to death

If blood becomes too thin, a transfusion with blood platelets may be necessary – but potential pathogenic agents must first be rendered harmless. The substances used for this unfortunately also destroy the blood platelets themselves, as shown in the findings of research at LiU and several European and Canadian universities.

Ten children ok, donors say

Between one and ten children – that is what the majority of Swedish egg and sperm donors think is an acceptable level for their assistance to childless couples. Female donors are more restrictive than male donors, according to a study at Linköping University.

Low-carbohydrate diet reduced inflammation

A low-carbohydrate diet, but not a low-fat diet, reduces inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to research at Linköping University.

Page manager: susanne.b.karlsson@liu.se
Last updated: 2014-07-02