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Placenta. 2009 Feb;30(2):111-23. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2008.10.012. Epub 2008 Nov 22.

Human tumour necrosis factor: physiological and pathological roles in placenta and endometrium.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Fetal-Maternal Medicine, Reproductive Biology Unit, Medical University of Vienna, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


The cytokine tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF) is a well known member of the TNF superfamily consisting of at least 18 ligands and 29 different receptors involved in numerous cellular processes. TNF signals through two distinct receptors TNFR1 and TNFR2 thereby controlling expression of cytokines, immune receptors, proteases, growth factors and cell cycle genes which in turn regulate inflammation, survival, apoptosis, cell migration, proliferation and differentiation. Since expression of TNF was discovered in amnion and placenta many studies demonstrated the presence of the cytokine and its receptors in the diverse human reproductive tissues. Whereas TNF has been implicated in ovulation, corpus luteum formation and luteolysis, this review focuses on the functions of TNF in human placental, endometrial and decidual cell types of normal tissues and also discusses its role in endometrial and gestational diseases. Physiological levels of the cytokine could be important for balancing cell fusion and apoptotic shedding of villous trophoblasts and to limit trophoblast invasion into maternal decidua. Regulation of the TNF/TNFR system by steroid hormones also suggests a role in uterine function including menstrual cycle-dependent destruction and regeneration of endometrial tissue. Aberrant levels of TNF, however, are associated with diverse reproductive diseases such as amniotic infections, recurrent spontaneous abortions, preeclampsia, preterm labour or endometriosis. Hence, concentrations, receptor distribution and length of stimulation determine whether TNF has beneficial or adverse effects on female reproduction and pregnancy.

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