Progesterone is a steroid hormone essential for the maintenance of human pregnancy, and its actions are thought to include promoting maternal immune tolerance of the semiallogenic fetus. We report that exposure of maternal T cells to progesterone at physiological doses induced a unique skewing of the cytokine production profile of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells, with reductions not only in potentially deleterious IFN-γ and TNF-α production but also in IL-10 and IL-5. Conversely, production of IL-4 was increased. Maternal T cells also became less polyfunctional, focussing cytokine production toward profiles including IL-4. This was accompanied by reduced T-cell proliferation. Using fetal and viral antigen-specific CD8(+) T-cell clones, we confirmed that this as a direct, nonantigen-specific effect. Yet human T cells lacked conventional nuclear progesterone receptors, implicating a membrane progesterone receptor. CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells responded to progesterone in a dose-dependent manner, with subtle effects at concentrations comparable to those in maternal blood, but profound effects at concentrations similar to those at the maternal-fetal interface. This characterization of how progesterone modulates T-cell function is important in understanding the normal biology of pregnancy and informing the rational use of progesterone therapy in pregnancies at risk of fetal loss.
Keywords: Human; IL-4; Maternal-fetal tolerance; Progesterone; T cell.
© 2015 The Authors. European Journal of Immunology published by WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.