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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Sep;943:148-56.

The mechanisms of placental viral infection.

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Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


The placenta is a dynamic organ whose structure and function change throughout pregnancy. There is compelling evidence that the placenta plays an integral role in the vertical transmission of viruses, such as cytomegalovirus and human immunodeficiency virus, from the mother to the fetus. Although the sequelae of congenital viral infection (i.e., fetal anomalies, intrauterine fetal death, and persistent postnatal infection) may be devastating, very little is known about the passage of viruses across the placenta and the pathologic consequences of placental viral infection. We postulate that the syncytiotrophoblast, which forms a continuous barrier between the maternal and fetal circulation, is relatively resistant to viral infection. In support of this hypothesis, we observed that the susceptibility of trophoblast cells to infection by adenovirus and herpes simplex virus and the expression of viral receptors were reduced as trophoblast cells terminally differentiated into syncytiotrophoblast. Conversely, we observed that undifferentiated, extravillous trophoblast cells, which are susceptible to adenovirus infection, underwent pathologic changes (i.e., apoptosis) when infected by adenovirus in the presence of decidual lymphocytes (which were used to simulate the maternal immune response to viral infection). Based on these findings, we speculate that viral infection of extravillous trophoblast cells may negatively impact the process of placental invasion and predispose the mother and fetus to adverse reproductive outcomes that result from placental dysfunction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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