"Our manuscript addresses a fundamental question in the fields of transplantation immunology and reproductive biology, namely, how do the fetus and placenta, which express antigens that are disparate from the mother, avoid being rejected by the maternal immune system during pregnancy?" explained lead investigator Adrian Erlebacher, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and a member of the NYU Cancer Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center. "What we found was completely unexpected at every level."
The researchers discovered that embryo implantation sets off a process that ultimately turns off a key pathway required for the immune system to attack foreign bodies. As a result, immune cells are never recruited to the site of implantation and therefore cannot harm the developing fetus.
The study, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society, appears in the June 8 issue of Science.
A central feature of the body's natural immune defense against transplanted foreign tissues and pathogens is the production of chemokines as a result of the local inflammatory response. The chemokines recruit various kinds of immune cells, including activated T cells, which accumulate and attack the tissue or pathogen. The chemokine-mediated recruitment of activated T cells to sites of inflammation is an integral part of the immune response.
During pregnancy however, the foreign antigens of the developing fetus and the placenta come into direct contact with cells of the maternal immune system, but fail to evoke the typical tissue rejection response seen with organ transplants.
Several years ago, Erlebacher and his research team found that T cells, poised to attack the fetus as a foreign body, were somehow unable to perform their intended role. The finding prompted the researchers to wonder if perhaps there was some sort of barrier preventing the T cells from reaching the fetus. They turned their attention to studying the properties of the decidua, the specialized structure that encases the fetus and placenta, and there, in a mouse model, they found new answers.
The research team has discovered that the onset of pregnancy causes the genes that are responsible for recruiting immune cells to sites of inflammation to be turned off within the decidua. As a result of these changes, T cells are not able to accumulate inside the decidua and therefore do not attack the fetus and placenta.
Specifically, they revealed that the implantation of an embryo changes the packaging of certain chemokine genes in the nuclei of the developing decidua's stromal cells. The change in the DNA packaging permanently deactivates, or "silences," the chemokine genes. Consequently, the chemokines are not expressed and T cells are not recruited to the site of embryo implantation.
Also of note, the observed change in the DNA packaging was a so-called 'epigenetic' modification, meaning a modification that changes gene expression without the presence of a hereditable gene mutation.
"These findings give insight into mechanisms of fetal-maternal immune tolerance, as well as reveal the epigenetic modification of chemokine genes within tissue stromal cells as a modality for limiting the trafficking of activated T cells," Dr. Erlebacher said. "It turns out that the cells that typically secrete the chemoattractants to bring the T cells to sites of inflammation are inhibited from doing so in the context of the pregnant uterus. The decidua appears instead as a zone of relative immunological inactivity."
Inappropriate regulation of this process, Dr. Erlebacher explained, could cause inflammation and the accumulation of immune cells at the maternal-fetal interface, which could lead to complications of human pregnancy, including preterm labor, spontaneous abortion and preeclampsia.
Erlebacher and his team will next look to see if these epigenetic modifications are also present within the human decidua, and whether the failure to generate them appropriately is associated with complications of human pregnancy. He explained that the study's findings also raise the possibility that the same kind of mechanism could enhance a tumor's ability to survive inside its host. The findings could have implications for autoimmune diseases, organ transplantation and cancer, as well as pregnancy.
"This is a very exciting finding for us because it gives a satisfying explanation for why the fetus isn't rejected during pregnancy, which is a fundamental question for the medical community with clear implications for human pregnancy," Dr. Erlebacher said. "It also reveals a new modality for controlling T cell trafficking in peripheral tissues that could provide insight into a myriad of other conditions and diseases."
About NYU School of Medicine:
NYU School of Medicine is one of the nation's preeminent academic institutions dedicated to achieving world class medical educational excellence. For 170 years, NYU School of Medicine has trained thousands of physicians and scientists who have helped to shape the course of medical history and enrich the lives of countless people. An integral part of NYU Langone Medical Center, the School of Medicine at its core is committed to improving the human condition through medical education, scientific research and direct patient care. The School also maintains academic affiliations with area hospitals, including Bellevue Hospital, one of the nation's finest municipal hospitals where its students, residents and faculty provide the clinical and emergency care to New York City's diverse population, which enhances the scope and quality of their medical education and training. Additional information about the NYU School of Medicine is available at http://school.med.nyu.edu/.
Jessica Guenzel | EurekAlert!
NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures
17.11.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
High speed video recording precisely measures blood cell velocity
15.11.2017 | ITMO University
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses