The inability of the mother to switch from T helper cell type 1 (Th1) to Th2 cytokine profiles at the fetal-maternal interface has been proposed as one of the primary causes of miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), and preeclampsia (PE). The Th1 [interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), TNF-alpha, and IL-12] and Th2 (IL-4 and IL-10) cytokines have opposite effects on human pregnancy. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) promotes embryo implantation and sustains pregnancy, whereas IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha are detrimental to pregnancy. Both IFN-gamma and LIF are produced by maternal cells and tissues at the fetal-maternal interface, whereas the IFN-gamma receptors (IFN-gamma R1 and IFN-gamma R2) and LIF receptor are abundantly expressed on the surface of placental trophoblasts. The effect of IFN-gamma on T lymphocyte activation is influenced by the relative membrane density of its two receptors, particularly IFN-gamma R2. In this study we report that in PE (25-40 wk gestation) and PE complicated by IUGR, IFN-gamma R2 protein expression is severely down-regulated and is similar to that observed in early placenta (7-10 wk gestation) developing under low O(2) tension. IFN-gamma production was found to be inversely related to the IFN-gamma R2 protein expression, and LIF receptor protein expression in PE mimicked that in early placental development. These results show that in PE, placental trophoblasts fail to establish an early to late switch with respect to IFN-gamma and IFN-gamma R2 expression. This supports the hypothesis that trophoblasts control the polarization of maternal immune effectors and cytokine profiles at the fetal-maternal interface that could be subject to oxidative stress in PE.