Fetal microchimerism: benevolence or malevolence for the mother?

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2011 Oct;158(2):148-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2011.05.008. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


For a long time, the conventional view was that the fetus and maternal vascular system are kept separate. In fact there is a two way traffic of cells through the placenta and the transplacental passage of cells is in fact the norm. The fetal cells can persist in a wide range of woman's tissues following a pregnancy or an abortion and she becomes a chimera. Fetal cells have been found in the maternal circulation and they were shown to persist for the entire life in humans, thus demonstrating long-term engraftment and survival capabilities. Microchimerism is a subject of much interest for a number of reasons. Studies of fetal microchimerism during pregnancy may offer explanations for complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, as well as insights into the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases which usually ameliorate during pregnancy. The impact of the persistence of allogenic cells of fetal origin and of the maternal immunological response to them on the mother's health is still not clear. On the beneficial side, it has been proposed that genetically disparate fetal microchimerism provides protection against some cancers, that fetal microchimerism can afford the mother new mechanisms of protection to some diseases, that fetal microchimerism can enlarge the immunological repertoire of the mother improving her defense against aggressor. Fetal cells are often present at sites of maternal injury and may have an active role in the repair of maternal tissues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Chimerism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Pregnancy / immunology*
  • Regeneration / physiology