Recent studies have demonstrated that fetal cells can be detected in the maternal circulation during virtually all human pregnancies. These fetal cells can engraft and may be isolated for many decades after pregnancy, leading to a state that may be maintained by the passage of pregnancy-associated progenitor cells. The clinical consequences of fetal cell microchimerism are unclear but may be potentially detrimental or valuable to the mother. One possibility is the generation of an alloreactive immune response by the mother to antigens expressed by the fetus; for example, the HY protein encoded by the Y chromosome. To test this we have screened a cohort of women with a range of parity histories within 8 yr of their last pregnancy for the presence of an HY-specific CD8 T-cell response. Fluorescent HLA-peptide (HY) tetramers were used to stain short-term T-cell cultures from these women for analysis by flow cytometry. Responses were detected in 37% of women with a history of pregnancies that produced males, and this value rose to 50% in women with two or more pregnancies that produced males. HY-specific CD8 T cells also could be detected directly in the peripheral blood of women with a history of at least two pregnancies that produced males. These HY-specific CD8 T cells produced interferon gamma (IFNG) following peptide stimulation, demonstrating their functional capacity. In conclusion, our data indicate that alloreactive CD8 T cells are generated frequently following normal pregnancy and retain functional capability for years following pregnancy.
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Vol. 76 • No. 1