Fetal-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T cell responses develop during normal human pregnancy and exhibit broad functional capacity

David Lissauer, Karen Piper, Oliver Goodyear, Mark D Kilby, Paul A H Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Tolerance of the semiallogeneic fetus presents a significant challenge to the maternal immune system during human pregnancy. T cells with specificity for fetal epitopes have been detected in women with a history of previous pregnancy, but it has been thought that such fetal-specific cells were generally deleted during pregnancy as a mechanism to maintain maternal tolerance of the fetus. We used MHC-peptide dextramer multimers containing an immunodominant peptide derived from HY to identify fetal-specific T cells in women who were pregnant with a male fetus. Fetal-specific CD8(+) T lymphocytes were observed in half of all pregnancies and often became detectable from the first trimester. The fetal-specific immune response increased during pregnancy and persisted in the postnatal period. Fetal-specific cells demonstrated an effector memory phenotype and were broadly functional. They retained their ability to proliferate, secrete IFN-γ, and lyse target cells following recognition of naturally processed peptide on male cells. These data show that the development of a fetal-specific adaptive cellular immune response is a normal consequence of human pregnancy and that unlike reports from some murine models, fetal-specific T cells are not deleted during human pregnancy. This has broad implications for study of the natural physiology of pregnancy and for the understanding of pregnancy-related complications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-80
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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