Accommodation of the fetoplacental unit in human pregnancy requires maternal immune tolerance to this "semiallograft". Local antiplacental immunity is modified by synthesis of uncommon histocompatibility Ags (e.g., HLA-G), growth factors, and cytokines by the placenta. Placental interleukins have been identified in reproductive tissues, but their roles in adaptive maternal immunity and determining term pregnancy outcomes have not been fully clarified. This study examined the distribution of IL-10 and TNF-alpha staining in term placentas. Women with proteinuric hypertension (PE, n = 10) were compared with an age-matched group with normal pregnancy (NP, n = 14) and gestational hypertension (GH, n = 6). Using immunohistochemistry of parrafin-fixed tissues, trophoblast cells were identified by cytokeratin 7 and cytokeratin 18 staining. The cytokine binding of villous trophoblast cells was scored depending on the extent of circumferential cytoplasm staining (<25%; intermediate or >75%). The cytokine positive decidual cells were scored as a percentage of total extravillous trophoblast cells. There was a reduction in villous IL-10 immunostaining compared with normal term placenta (PE, 10.2 +/- 1.1, mean +/- SEM; NP, 14.07 +/- 1.16 Mann-Whitney U test; p = 0.02). In these patients, there was an increase in TNF-alpha immunostaining. Sparse endovascular extravillous trophoblast cells demonstrated nuclear IL-10 staining in 30% of patients with preeclampsia. Serum IL-10 was diminished in women with preeclampsia compared with normal pregnancy. In conclusion, villous trophoblast demonstrated diminished immunostaining of IL-10 in preeclampsia. This abnormality may be associated with heightened maternal antifetal immunity and therefore inadequate placental development in preeclampsia.