Throughout gestation, the maternal immune system is tightly modulated to allow growth of a semiallogeneic fetus. During the third trimester, the maternal immune system shifts to a proinflammatory phenotype in preparation for labor. What induces this shift remains unclear. Cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) is shed by the placenta and enters maternal circulation throughout pregnancy. Levels of cffDNA are increased as gestation progresses and peak before labor, coinciding with a shift to proinflammatory maternal immunity. Furthermore, cffDNA is abnormally elevated in plasma from women with complications of pregnancy, including preterm labor. Given the changes in maternal immunity at the end of pregnancy and the role of sterile inflammation in the pathophysiology of spontaneous preterm birth, we hypothesized that cffDNA can act as a damage-associated molecular pattern inducing an inflammatory cytokine response that promotes hallmarks of parturition. To test this hypothesis, we stimulated human maternal leukocytes with cffDNA from primary term cytotrophoblasts or maternal plasma and observed significant IL-1β and CXCL10 secretion, which coincides with phosphorylation of IFN regulatory factor 3 and caspase-1 cleavage. We then show that human maternal monocytes are crucial for the immune response to cffDNA and can activate bystander T cells to secrete proinflammatory IFN-γ and granzyme B. Lastly, we find that the monocyte response to cffDNA leads to vascular endothelium activation, induction of myometrial contractility, and PGE2 release in vitro. Our results suggest that the immune response to cffDNA can promote key features of the parturition cascade, which has physiologic consequences relevant to the timing of labor.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy