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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 25;105(47):18472-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809233105. Epub 2008 Nov 14.

T cell apoptosis at the maternal-fetal interface in early human pregnancy, involvement of galectin-1.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 7 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


The human fetus is not rejected by the maternal immune system despite expressing paternal antigens. Natural killer cells, the major lymphocyte population of the human decidua (dNKs), express genes with immunomodulatory potential. These include galectin-1 (gal1), a lectin with apoptotic activity on activated CD8(+) T cells, Th1 and Th17 CD4(+) cells. Although many cell types at the maternal-fetal interface also produce gal1, its production by dNKs has been used here to study its function in pregnancy. Media conditioned by dNKs containing gal1 induced apoptosis of activated T cells. This effect was blocked by anti-gal1 antibodies. Decidual T (dT) cells but not peripheral T (pT) cells bound gal1 and presented a distinct glycophenotype compatible with sensitivity to gal1. Annexin V staining, TUNEL, and hypodiploidy showed a substantial proportion of apoptotic dT cells. Immunohistochemistry revealed widespread expression of gal1 as well as periglandular apoptotic dT foci that colocalized with dNKs. Thus, secretion of gal1 by dNKs and other decidual cells contributes to the generation of an immune-privileged environment at the maternal-fetal interface.

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