Preterm birth (PTB) (delivery before 37 weeks' gestation) is a leading cause of neonatal death and disease in industrialized and developing countries alike. Infection (most notably in high-risk deliveries occurring before 28 weeks' gestation) is hypothesized to initiate an intrauterine inflammatory response that plays a key role in the premature initiation of labor as well as a host of the pathologies associated with prematurity. As such, a better understanding of intrauterine inflammation in pregnancy is critical to our understanding of preterm labor and fetal injury, as well as on-going efforts to prevent PTB. Focusing on the fetal innate immune system responses to intrauterine infection, the present paper will review clinical and experimental studies to discuss the capacity for a fetal contribution to the intrauterine inflammation associated with PTB. Evidence from experimental studies to suggest that the fetus has the capacity to elicit a pro-inflammatory response to intrauterine infection is highlighted, with reference to the contribution of the lung, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. The paper will conclude that pathological intrauterine inflammation is a complex process that is modified by multiple factors including time, type of agonist, host genetics, and tissue.
Keywords: fetus; infection; inflammation; injury; preterm birth.