The immunomodulatory roles of macrophages at the maternal-fetal interface

Reprod Sci. 2010 Mar;17(3):209-18. doi: 10.1177/1933719109349962. Epub 2010 Jan 11.


Macrophages are versatile cells that play a central role in innate and adaptive immunity and participate in a wide variety of biological processes. In the uterine decidua, macrophages represent a major leukocyte subset throughout pregnancy. Here, decidual macrophages exert an immunosuppressive phenotype characterized by abundant production of interleukin (IL)-10 and indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase activity. Their polarized cytokine secretion pattern has recently been classified as an M2 phenotype. These features of decidual macrophages favor maternal immune tolerance to semiallogenic fetus. In addition, macrophages cooperate with trophoblast cells during the early stages of human pregnancy to support uterine vasculature remodeling by removing apoptotic cells and through the production of proteases that degrade the extracellular matrix. In the peripartum period, macrophages also participate in the regulation of cervical ripening and the initiation of parturition through the production of proinflammatory cytokines and prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)). Aberrant activity of uterine macrophages is linked to the pathogenesis of preeclampsia and preterm delivery. Here, we review the immunomodulatory roles of decidual macrophages during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cervical Ripening / physiology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Decidua / cytology
  • Decidua / immunology
  • Dinoprostone / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility, Maternal-Fetal / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation / immunology*
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Interleukin-10 / biosynthesis
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Parturition / physiology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / etiology
  • Trophoblasts / immunology
  • Trophoblasts / physiology
  • Uterus / blood supply


  • Cytokines
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Interleukin-10
  • Dinoprostone