Maternal antibodies enhance or prevent cytomegalovirus infection in the placenta by neonatal Fc receptor-mediated transcytosis

Am J Pathol. 2006 Apr;168(4):1210-26. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2006.050482.


How human cytomegalovirus (CMV) reaches the fetus across the placenta is unknown. The major viral cause of congenital disease, CMV infects the uterine-placental interface with varied outcomes depending on the strength of maternal humoral immunity and gestational age. Covering the surface of villi that float in blood, syncytiotrophoblasts express the neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn) that transports IgG for passive immunity. Immunohistochemical analysis of early-gestation biopsy specimens showed an unusual pattern of CMV replication proteins in underlying villus cytotrophoblasts, whereas syncytiotrophoblasts were spared. Found in placentas with low to moderate CMV-neutralizing antibody titers, this pattern suggested virion transcytosis across the surface. In contrast, syncytiotrophoblasts from placentas with high neutralizing titers contained viral DNA and caveolin-1-positive vesicles in which IgG and CMV glycoprotein B co-localized. In villus explants, IgG-virion transcytosis and macrophage uptake were blocked with trypsin-treatment and soluble protein A. Quantitative analysis in polarized epithelial cells showed that FcRn-mediated transcytosis was blocked by the Fc fragment of IgG, but not F(ab')(2). Our results suggest that CMV virions could disseminate to the placenta by co-opting the receptor-mediated transport pathway for IgG. These findings could explain the efficacy of hyperimmune IgG for treatment of primary CMV infection during gestation and support vaccination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chorionic Villi / immunology
  • Chorionic Villi / virology
  • Cytomegalovirus / physiology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired*
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments / immunology*
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Placenta / immunology*
  • Placenta / virology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / virology
  • Receptors, Fc / immunology*
  • Trophoblasts / immunology
  • Trophoblasts / virology
  • Uterus / virology
  • Virion / physiology
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Fc
  • Fc receptor, neonatal