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J Exp Med. 1996 Aug 1;184(2):539-48.

Human placental cytotrophoblasts produce the immunosuppressive cytokine interleukin 10.

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Department of Anatomy, University of California San Francisco 94143, USA.


The mechanism by which the mammalian mother accepts the implanting fetus as an allograft remains unexplained, but is likely to be the result of a combination of factors. Mononuclear cytotrophoblasts, the specialized fetal cells of the placenta that invade the uterus, play an important role. These cells express HLA-G, an unusual major histocompatibility complex class I-B molecule, and secrete cytokines and pregnancy-specific proteins that can regulate immune function. We investigated whether cytotrophoblasts secrete interleukin 10 (IL-10), a cytokine that potently inhibits alloresponses in mixed lymphocyte reactions. Cytotrophoblasts from all stages of pregnancy produced IL-10 in vitro, but neither placental fibroblasts nor choriocarcinoma (malignant trophoblast) cell lines did so. Spontaneous IL-10 production averaged 650, 853, and 992 pg/10(6) cells in the first, second, and third trimesters of pregnancy, respectively. IL-10 secretion dropped approximately 10-fold after the first 24 h of culture, and was paralleled by a decrease in messenger RNA. IL-10 messenger RNA was detected in biopsies of the placenta and the portion of the uterus that contains invasive cytotrophoblasts, suggesting that this cytokine is also produced in vivo. IL-10 secreted by cytotrophoblasts in vitro is bioactive, as determined by its ability to suppress interferon gamma production in an allogeneic mixed lymphocyte reaction. We conclude that human cytotrophoblast IL-10 may be an important factor that contributes to maternal tolerance of the allogeneic fetus.

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