Pregnancy is a unique event in which a fetus, despite being genetically and immunologically different from the mother (a hemi-allograft), develops in the uterus. Successful pregnancy implies avoidance of rejection by the maternal immune system. Fetal and maternal immune cells come into direct contact at the decidua, which is a highly specialized mucous membrane that plays a key role in fetal tolerance. Uterine dendritic cells (DC) within the decidua have been implicated in pregnancy maintenance. DC serve as antigen-presenting cells with the unique ability to induce primary immune responses. Just as lymphocytes comprise different subsets, DC subsets have been identified that differentially control lymphocyte function. DC may also act to induce immunologic tolerance and regulation of T cell-mediated immunity. Current understanding of DC immunobiology within the context of mammalian fetal-maternal tolerance is reviewed and discussed herein.
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Vol. 77 • No. 4