In most mammals, the fetus limits its presentation of paternal antigens to the mother by suppressing the cell-surface expression of proteins of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on trophoblast. In the horse, however, functional, polymorphic MHC class I antigens are expressed at high levels on the invasive trophoblast cells of the chorionic girdle between Days 32 and 36 of pregnancy, although not on the adjacent noninvasive trophoblast of the chorion and allantochorion membranes. In this study, the control of MHC class I gene expression was investigated in invasive and noninvasive horse trophoblast, and the MHC class I loci expressed by invasive trophoblast were identified. Northern blot hybridization of Day 33–34 conceptus tissue revealed both transcriptional and posttranscriptional regulation of cell-surface MHC class I expression in horse trophoblast. The invasive MHC class I-positive trophoblast showed levels of steady-state mRNA nearly as high as those in lymphoid tissues from adult horses, whereas noninvasive MHC class I-negative trophoblast also contained transcripts for MHC class I, but at lower levels similar to those present in adult horse nonlymphoid tissue. We also cloned and sequenced polymerase chain reaction products from the transmembrane and cytoplasmic regions of MHC class I transcripts in chorionic girdle and lymphocytes, and determined that horse invasive trophoblast appears to transcribe the same MHC class I loci transcribed in lymphocytes, including both polymorphic and nonpolymorphic loci. These data from the horse demonstrate that functional alloantigen presentation by trophoblast can be a normal part of early pregnancy.
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