Trophoblast rejection, which is characterized by increased apoptosis, is mediated by T helper (Th)-1, or proinflammatory, cytokines, whereas Th-2, or anti-inflammatory, cytokines confer immune protection and facilitate implantation. We investigated the role of both types of cytokines on the expression and function of the Fas/Fas ligand (FasL) apoptotic pathway in trophoblast cells. First-trimester human trophoblast primary-culture cells as well as A3 and HTR/8 trophoblast cell lines were treated with proinflammatory cytokines such as interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) and with the anti-inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-10. Sensitivity to Fas-mediated apoptosis was measured using an activating anti-Fas monoclonal antibody. Cell viability was evaluated using the MTT (3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide) and CellTiter 96 assay. Fas/FasL mRNA and protein expression levels were determined using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and Western blot analysis, respectively. Trophoblast cells normally express FasL, but low levels of Fas, and they are resistant to Fas-mediated apoptosis. IFN-γ and TNFα promote Fas expression and sensitivity, whereas IL-6 and IL-10 increase the resistance of trophoblast cells to Fas-mediated apoptosis. Furthermore, IL-10 treatment activates FLICE-like inhibitory protein (FLIP), a downstream inhibitor of Fas apoptotic signaling. Although trophoblast cells express Fas, susceptibility to Fas does not necessarily correlate with its expression. In this study, we demonstrate that Th-2 cytokines increase the resistance of trophoblast cells to Fas-mediated apoptosis either by inhibiting Fas expression or by inducing FLIP activation. This “trophoblast-cytokine-Fas/FasL triad” determines the ability of the Fas/FasL system to regulate trophoblast viability and, consequently, the success or failure of pregnancy.
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