The role of macrophages in utero-placental interactions during normal and pathological pregnancy

Immunol Invest. 2008;37(5):535-64. doi: 10.1080/08820130802191375.


The intimate association between maternal and placental tissues elicits an interesting immunological paradox. Placental tissue contains paternal antigens, but under normal circumstances the semi-allogeneic fetus and placenta are not attacked by the maternal immune system. Interestingly, this tolerance to fetal antigens occurs in the presence of a large number of maternal leukocytes, almost all of which are members of the innate immune system. Macrophages are one of the most abundant leukocytes in the decidua and their numbers remain constant throughout gestation. They are recruited to the decidua by both stromal cells and trophoblast cells, where they adopt a specialized phenotype that may assist in various aspects of decidual homeostasis, placental development, and tolerance to the semi-allogeneic trophoblast. Aberrant behavior of these macrophages can affect trophoblast function and placental development, potentially leading to a spectrum of adverse pregnancy outcomes ranging from pre-eclampsia to fetal growth restriction or demise. This review will focus on the phenotype and putative functions of decidual macrophages in normal pregnancy, and how abnormal activation of these cells can affect various aspects of placental development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Decidua / immunology*
  • Decidua / metabolism
  • Decidua / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / biosynthesis
  • Immunologic Factors / genetics
  • Macrophage Activation / genetics
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology*
  • Placenta / immunology
  • Placenta / pathology
  • Placental Circulation / immunology
  • Placentation
  • Pregnancy / immunology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications / immunology*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Trophoblasts / immunology*
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism
  • Trophoblasts / pathology


  • Immunologic Factors