Immunological implications of pregnancy-induced microchimerism

Nat Rev Immunol. 2017 Aug;17(8):483-494. doi: 10.1038/nri.2017.38. Epub 2017 May 8.


Immunological identity is traditionally defined by genetically encoded antigens, with equal maternal and paternal contributions as a result of Mendelian inheritance. However, vertically transferred maternal cells also persist in individuals at very low levels throughout postnatal development. Reciprocally, mothers are seeded during pregnancy with genetically foreign fetal cells that persist long after parturition. Recent findings suggest that these microchimeric cells expressing non-inherited, familially relevant antigenic traits are not accidental 'souvenirs' of pregnancy, but are purposefully retained within mothers and their offspring to promote genetic fitness by improving the outcome of future pregnancies. In this Review, we discuss the immunological implications, benefits and potential consequences of individuals being constitutively chimeric with a biologically active 'microchiome' of genetically foreign cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity
  • Chimerism
  • Female
  • Fetus / cytology
  • Fetus / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / cytology
  • Immune Tolerance*
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Pregnancy / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology