Obesity in pregnancy stimulates macrophage accumulation and inflammation in the placenta

Placenta. 2008 Mar;29(3):274-81. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2007.12.010. Epub 2008 Feb 11.


Obesity and pregnancy are associated with a combination of insulin resistance and inflammatory changes which exacerbate in combination. Based on the similarity between the inflammatory transcriptomes of adipose tissue and placenta, we hypothesized that the placenta develops exaggerated inflammation in response to obesity. The aim of this study was to characterize placental inflammatory mediators and macrophage accumulation in relation to peripheral inflammation in obesity. Placental macrophages and maternal peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 20 obese and 15 lean women were functionally and phenotypically characterized using immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry and expression for macrophage markers and inflammatory cytokines. The number of resident CD68+ and CD14+ cells was increased 2-3 fold in the placenta of obese as compared to lean women. The macrophage population was characterized by a marked phenotypic heterogeneity with complex subsets of CD14+, CD68+ and CD11b+ (mac-1) cells and by an increased expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1, TNF-alpha, IL-6. Placental inflammation was associated with an activation of PBMC gene expression with an increase in the monocyte differentiation and maturation markers CD14 and CD68 in maternal but not fetal PBMC. The inflammatory changes were associated with higher plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein and IL-6 in obese compared to lean women. In conclusion, the chronic inflammation state of pre-gravid obesity is extending to in utero life with accumulation of a heterogeneous macrophage population and pro-inflammatory mediators in the placenta. The resulting inflammatory milieu in which the fetus develops may have critical consequences for short and long term programming of obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / genetics
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / metabolism
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Cell Count
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / genetics
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / metabolism
  • Macrophages / cytology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Mucins / genetics
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Placenta / cytology
  • Placenta / immunology
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications* / immunology
  • Pregnancy Complications* / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • ADGRE1 protein, human
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic
  • CD68 antigen, human
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Interleukin-6
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Mucins
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha