Immunology of the maternal-fetal interface

Annu Rev Immunol. 2013;31:387-411. doi: 10.1146/annurev-immunol-032712-100003. Epub 2013 Jan 3.


The immune cells that reside at the interface between the placenta and uterus are thought to play many important roles in pregnancy. Recent work has revealed that the composition and function of these cells are locally controlled by the specialized uterine stroma (the decidua) that surrounds the implanted conceptus. Here, I discuss how key immune cell types (natural killer cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and T cells) are either enriched or excluded from the decidua, how their function is regulated within the decidua, and how they variously contribute to pregnancy success or failure. The discussion emphasizes the relationship between human and mouse studies. Deeper understanding of the immunology of the maternal-fetal interface promises to yield significant insight into the pathogenesis of many human pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction, spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, and congenital infection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Decidua / cytology
  • Decidua / immunology
  • Decidua / pathology
  • Embryo Implantation / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / pathology
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology*
  • Placenta / blood supply
  • Placenta / immunology
  • Pregnancy