The human placenta utilizes both active and passive mechanisms to evade rejection by the maternal immune system. We investigated the pattern of expression of the B7 family of immunomodulatory molecules B7-H1 (PD-L1), B7-2 (CD86), and B7-1 (CD80) at the term maternal-fetal interface. Northern blot and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analyses showed that B7-H1 mRNA is abundant in term placenta and that cytotrophoblasts are sources of this message. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that B7-H1 is constitutively expressed by the syncytiotrophoblast and by extravillous cytotrophoblasts, both of which are juxtaposed to maternal blood and tissue. By contrast, placental stromal cells, including macrophages, lacked the protein. Expression of B7-H1 protein was low in first-trimester placenta compared to second- and third-trimester tissue (P < 0.05) and was enhanced in cultured cytotrophoblasts by treatment with either interferon-γ or epidermal growth factor (P < 0.05), suggesting that one or both of these mediators regulates B7-H1 expression in the placenta. RT-PCR and immunofluorescence analysis of term placental tissue revealed different patterns of expression of the immunostimulatory protein, B7-2. In contrast to B7-H1, B7-2 mRNA and protein were absent in cytotrophoblast cells but present in maternal macrophages and some fetal macrophages. The B7-1 mRNA and protein were absent at the maternal-fetal interface. These studies document expression of the B7 family proteins at the maternal-fetal interface and demonstrate that B7-H1 is positioned such that it could facilitate protection of fetal cells against activated maternal leukocytes. Conversely, B7-2 was absent on trophoblasts and was appropriately localized to fetal and maternal macrophages, which may participate in antigen presentation.
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