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Yale J Biol Med. 2012 Mar;85(1):105-18. Epub 2012 Mar 29.

Decidual macrophages and their roles at the maternal-fetal interface.

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Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The semi-allogeneic fetus, whose genome consists of maternally and paternally inherited alleles, must coexist with an active maternal immune system during its 9 months in utero. Macrophages are the second most abundant immune cell at the maternal-fetal interface, although populations and functions for these populations remain ill defined. We have previously reported two distinct subsets of CD14(+) decidual macrophages found to be present in first trimester decidual tissue, 20 percent CD11c(HI) and 68 percent CD11c(LO). Interestingly, CD11c(HI) decidual macrophages express genes associated with lipid metabolism, inflammation, and antigen presentation function and specifically upregulate CD1 molecules. Conversely, CD11c(LO) decidual macrophages express genes associated with extracellular matrix formation, muscle regulation, and tissue growth. The large abundance of CD11c(HI) decidual macrophages and their ability to process antigens more efficiently than CD11c(LO) macrophages suggests that CD11c(HI) macrophages may be important antigen processing and presenting cells at the maternal-fetal interface, while CD11c(LO) macrophages may perform necessary homeostatic functions during placental construction. Thus, macrophage heterogeneity may be an important and necessary division of labor that leads to both an induction of maternal immune cell tolerance to fetal antigens as well as basic homeostatic functions in human pregnancy.


NK cells; antigen presenting cells; lipids; macrophages; pregnancy; reproduction

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