Chimeric maternal cells with tissue-specific antigen expression and morphology are common in infant tissues

Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2009 Sep-Oct;12(5):337-46. doi: 10.2350/08-07-0499.1.


Maternal microchimerism (MMc) has been purported to play a role in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity, but how a small number of foreign cells could contribute to chronic, systemic inflammation has not been explained. Reports of peripheral blood cells differentiating into tissue-specific cell types may shed light on the problem in that chimeric maternal cells could act as target cells within tissues. We investigated MMc in tissues from 7 male infants. Female cells, presumed maternal, were characterized by simultaneous immunohistochemistry and fluorescence in situ hybridization for X- and Y-chromosomes. Maternal cells constituted 0.017% to 1.9% of parenchymal cells and were found in all infants in liver, pancreas, lung, kidney, bladder, skin, and spleen. Maternal cells were differentiated: maternal hepatocytes in liver, renal tubular cells in kidney, and beta-islet cells in pancreas. Maternal cells were not found in areas of tissue injury or inflammatory infiltrate. Maternal hematopoietic cells were found only in hearts from patients with neonatal lupus. Thus, differentiated maternal cells are present in multiple tissue types and occur independently of inflammation or tissue injury. Loss of tolerance to maternal parenchymal cells could lead to organ-specific "auto" inflammatory disease and elimination of maternal cells in areas of inflammation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Chimera
  • Chimerism* / embryology
  • Chromosomes, Human, X
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / immunology