Maternal microchimerism in healthy adults in lymphocytes, monocyte/macrophages and NK cells

Lab Invest. 2006 Nov;86(11):1185-92. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.3700471. Epub 2006 Sep 11.


During pregnancy some maternal cells reach the fetal circulation. Microchimerism (Mc) refers to low levels of genetically disparate cells or DNA. Maternal Mc has recently been found in the peripheral blood of healthy adults. We asked whether healthy women have maternal Mc in T and B lymphocytes, monocyte/macrophages and NK cells and, if so, at what levels. Cellular subsets were isolated after fluorescence activated cell sorting. A panel of HLA-specific real-time quantitative PCR assays was employed targeting maternal-specific HLA sequences. Maternal Mc was expressed as the genome equivalent (gEq) number of microchimeric cells per 100,000 proband cells. Thirty-one healthy adult women probands were studied. Overall 39% (12/31) of probands had maternal Mc in at least one cellular subset. Maternal Mc was found in T lymphocytes in 25% (7/28) and B lymphocytes in 14% (3/21) of probands. Maternal Mc levels ranged from 0.9 to 25.6 and 0.9 to 25.3 gEq/100,000 in T and B lymphocytes, respectively. Monocyte/macrophages had maternal Mc in 16% (4/25) and NK cells in 28% (5/18) of probands with levels from 0.3 to 36 and 1.8 to 3.2 gEq/100,000, respectively. When compared to fetal Mc, as assessed by quantification of male DNA in women with sons, maternal Mc was substantially less prevalent in all cellular subsets; fetal Mc prevalence in T and B lymphocytes, monocyte/macrophages and NK cells was 58, 75, 50 and 62% (P=0.01, P=0.005, P=0.04, P=0.05) respectively. In summary, maternal Mc was identified among lymphoid and myeloid compartments of peripheral blood in healthy adult women. Maternal Mc was less frequent than fetal Mc in all cellular subsets tested. Studies are needed to investigate the immunological effects and function of maternal Mc and to explore whether maternal Mc in cellular subsets has biological effects on her progeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, CD / analysis
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chimera / genetics
  • Chimera / immunology*
  • Chimerism*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • DNA / blood
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • HLA Antigens / blood
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / genetics
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Pregnancy


  • Antigens, CD
  • HLA Antigens
  • DNA