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Biol Reprod. 2002 Oct;67(4):1211-7.

Decidual lymphocytes of human spontaneous abortions induce apoptosis but not necrosis in JEG-3 extravillous trophoblast cells.

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Unidad de Inmunología, Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Granada, Spain.


The human decidua contains an unusually high proportion of lymphocytes, mainly NK and T cells, which are potentially cytotoxic to the trophoblast when they are stimulated with certain cytokines. Given the high incidence of spontaneous abortion in humans and other species, our working hypothesis is that decidual lymphocytes are involved in immunological mechanisms that attack the trophoblast and induce abortion when any gestational problem arises. To test this hypothesis, flow cytometry was used to compare decidual lymphocyte populations in first-trimester spontaneous abortions and elective terminations of first-trimester pregnancy. We found significantly higher proportions of decidual lymphocytes that expressed activation markers, and of T cells (mainly T helper cells) in spontaneous abortions than in elective terminations of pregnancy. Decidual lymphocytes from spontaneous abortion, like decidual lymphocytes from elective termination of pregnancy and peripheral blood lymphocytes, were however, unable to lyse the JEG-3 extravillous cytotrophoblast cell line in a (51)Cr-release assay. Nevertheless, decidual lymphocytes from spontaneous abortion, unlike decidual lymphocytes from elective termination of pregnancy and peripheral blood lymphocytes, induced apoptosis in JEG-3 cells as determined by DNA fragment-release assay. Hematoxylin and eosin staining showed a significantly higher proportion of apoptotic JEG-3 cells when these cells were treated with decidual lymphocytes from spontaneous abortion than when JEG-3 cells were cultured with decidual lymphocytes from elective termination of pregnancy. The ultrastructural signs of apoptosis were confirmed by electron microscopy. These data support the hypothesis that activated decidual lymphocytes participate in human spontaneous abortion by inducing apoptosis but not necrosis of the trophoblast.

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