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APMIS. 2018 Jul;126(7):570-588. doi: 10.1111/apm.12847.

Defense and infection of the human placenta.

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Robert J. Tomsich Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH, USA.


The placenta functions as a shield against infection of the fetus. The innate and adaptive immune defenses of the developing fetus are poorly equipped to fight infections. Infection by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa may cause infertility, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, growth retardation, anomalies of development, premature delivery, neonatal morbidity, and mortality. However, appreciation of the human microbiome and host cell-microbe interactions must be taken into consideration as we try to determine what interactions are pathologic. Infection is typically recognized histologically by the presence of inflammation. Yet, several factors make comparison of the placenta to other human organs difficult. The placenta comprises tissues from two persons, complicating the role of the immune system. The placenta is a temporary organ. It must be eventually expelled; the processes leading to partuition involve maternal inflammation. What is normal or pathologic may be a function of timing or extent of the process. We now must consider whether bacteria, and even some viruses, are useful commensals or pathogens. Still, recognizing infection of the placenta is one of the most important contributions placental pathologic examination can give to care of the mother and neonate. This review provides a brief overview of placental defense against infection, consideration of the placental microbiome, routes of infection, and the histopathology of amniotic fluid infection and TORCH infections.


Congenital infection; pathology; placenta; surgical pathology; vertical transmission

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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