Send to

Choose Destination
Med Hypotheses. 2014 Jun;82(6):721-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2014.03.013. Epub 2014 Mar 17.

Imitating a stress response: a new hypothesis about the innate immune system's role in pregnancy.

Author information

University of Virginia, United States. Electronic address:
University of South Florida, United States.


Recent research challenges long-held hypotheses about mechanisms through which pregnancy induces maternal immune suppression or tolerance of the embryo/fetus. It is now understood that normal pregnancy engages the immune system and that the immune milieu changes with advancing gestation. We suggest that pregnancy mimics the innate immune system's response to stress, causing a sterile inflammatory response that is necessary for successful reproduction. The relationship between external stressors and immunomodulation in pregnancy has been acknowledged, but the specific mechanisms are still being explicated. Implantation and the first trimester are times of immune activation and intensive inflammation in the uterine environment. A period of immune quiescence during the second trimester allows for the growth and development of the maturing fetus. Labor is also an inflammatory event. The length of gestation and timing of parturition can be influenced by environmental stressors. These stressors affect pregnancy through neuroendocrine interaction with the immune system, specifically through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Trophoblastic cells that constitute the maternal-fetal interface appear to harness the maternal immune system to promote and maximize the reproductive success of the mother and fetus. Pregnancy is a time of upregulated innate immune responses and decreased adaptive, cell-mediated responses. The inflammatory processes of pregnancy resemble an immune response to brief naturalistic stressors: there is a shift from T helper (Th) 1 to T helper (Th) 2 dominant adaptive immunity with a concomitant shift in cytokine production, decreased proliferation of T cells, and decreased cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells. Inclusion of both murine and human studies, allows an exploration of insights into how trophoblasts influence the activity of the maternal innate immune system during gestation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center