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New way to predict complications in pregnancy

Researchers at Linköping University have identified important molecules that are of significance for a normal pregnancy. The discovery could improve the possibility of predicting toxaemia and other complications that could injure the foetus. The results were presented in the new number of the prestigious Journal of Immunology.

Gravid Kvinna.Pregnancy is a challenging condition for a mother’s immune system. Since the foetus consists of half of its father’s genes, it can thus be compared to a transplant that risks being rejected. The mother’s immune system must therefore adjust to prevent rejection of the foetus without losing its ability to protect her body against infections.

The LiU research group, in collaboration with Linköping University Hospital and Ryhov County Hospital in Jönköping, studied how the mother’s immune system is regulated during a normal pregnancy. A special type of white blood cell, the macrophage, is enriched in the uterus and comes in close contact with the foetus. Previous research by groups such as the one in Linköping have shown that these macrophages are of crucial significance for the protection of the foetus. On the other hand, it is not known which factors control the development of these cells.

After having studied several potential factors, the research group identified two key molecules necessary for the macrophages to protect the foetus:

  • growth factor M-CSF'
  • the immunosuppressive signal substance IL-10.

Among other functions, these cause the macrophages to produce receptors on their surfaces necessary for the recognition and elimination of bacteria. This way excessive inflammation that could injure the foetus is avoided.

Studies on mice indicate that insufficient levels of M-CSF and IL-10 can lead to complications during pregnancy. The research group is now planning to study whether a lack of these factors can cause repeated miscarriages or toxaemia. Over the longer term, the results can provide better possibilities for predicting and treating complications.

“The results have stimulated great interest at international meetings,” says Jan Ernerudh, professor of clinical immunology and leader of the study.

Judit Svensson.Doctoral student Judit Svensson, who performed most of the work and presented the results, has received several awards, the latest being the Young Investigator Award from the European Society of Reproductive Immunology.

The possibilities of discovering threatening complications to pregnancy in time have now increased in Linköping thanks to the biobank for pregnant women, which begun in cooperation with the University Hospital Women’s Clinic and Linköping University. The goal is for the biobank to include tests from 10,000 women.

“The biobank will be used for several different purposes,” says professor Göran Berg, the originator of the project. Among other things, risk markers could be identified, with M-CSF and IL-10 as potential candidates.

Text: Åke Hjelm

Article: J. Svensson, M.C. Jenmalm, A. Matussek, R. Geffers, G. Berg and J. Ernerudh: Macrophages at the Fetal–Maternal Interface Express Markers of Alternative Activation and Are Induced by M-CSF and IL-10. The Journal of Immunology October 1, 2011 vol. 187 no. 7.




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Last updated: 2012-12-10