Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001 Aug;108(2):235-41.

Costimulatory molecules in the developing human gastrointestinal tract: a pathway for fetal allergen priming.

Author information

  • 1Infection, Inflammation and Repair, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.



Antigen-specific responses can be detected in umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells. The fetal immune system must therefore attain a level of maturity compatible with the initiation of such responses as well as be exposed to antigen.


We sought to assess the expression of costimulatory molecules in fetal gut and the presence of cytokines in amniotic fluid at this time as a preliminary analysis of the suitability of the fetal gut as a site of antigen priming during intrauterine life.


Human fetal gut was analyzed for cells expressing costimulatory molecules through use of immunohistochemistry. Amniotic fluid was studied by ELISA, for cytokines regulating the nature of the response, and as a source of the common dietary antigen ovalbumin.


MHC class II--positive cells were abundant over the period examined (11-24 weeks of gestation), other surface antigens showing spatial and temporal variation in expression. From 11 to 14 weeks of gestation, CD68-positive and CD40-positive cells, like MHC class II--positive cells, were present throughout the lamina propria; few CD3-positive cells (T cells) were observed. With the emergence of lymphoid aggregates (14-16 weeks), CD83-positive cells (dendritic cells) and CD20-positive cells (B cells) could be detected in fetal gut; however, expression was restricted to the lymphoid aggregates. In contrast, MHC class II, CD40, and CD68 continued to be expressed in the lamina propria. CD28-positive cells were also evident from 14 weeks of gestation, occurring throughout the lamina propria and lymphoid aggregates; this corresponded to the increasing numbers of CD3-positive cells. The occasional CD86-positive, CD40L-positive, or CTLA4-positive cell could be seen in or around lymphoid aggregates after 14 weeks of gestation. Lymphoid follicles forming after 16 weeks of gestation contained MHC class II--positive, CD83-positive, CD20-positive, CD40-positive, CD86-positive, CD3-positive, CD28-positive, CD40L-positive, and CTLA4-positive cells. MHC class II--positive, CD40-positive, CD68-positive, CD3-positive, and CD28-positive cells continued to be present in the lamina propria at this time. At all times studied, CD14 was not expressed in the lamina propria or lymphoid follicles. Prostaglandin E(2), TGF beta(1), and IL-10 dominated the amniotic fluid cytokine milieu, and ovalbumin was also detectable in amniotic fluid from 3 of 26 women who had detectable circulating levels.


Of the costimulatory molecules studied, CD40 was the most abundant. However, both of the ligand families studied (CD40-CD40L and CD86-CD28/CD152) could provide the costimulatory signals required for the initiation of antigenspecific reactivity in the gastrointestinal tract of the human fetus as early as 16 weeks of gestation. The cytokine milieu would favor the development of T(H)2-type reactivity to antigens, such as ovalbumin, that are present at this time.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Support Center