Preterm labor commonly precedes preterm birth, the leading cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality worldwide. Most research has focused on establishing a causal link between innate immune activation and pathological inflammation leading to preterm labor and birth. However, the role of maternal effector/activated T cells in the pathogenesis of preterm labor/birth is poorly understood. In this study, we first demonstrated that effector memory and activated maternal T cells expressing granzyme B and perforin are enriched at the maternal-fetal interface (decidua) of women with spontaneous preterm labor. Next, using a murine model, we reported that prior to inducing preterm birth, in vivo T cell activation caused maternal hypothermia, bradycardia, systemic inflammation, cervical dilation, intra-amniotic inflammation, and fetal growth restriction, all of which are clinical signs associated with preterm labor. In vivo T cell activation also induced B cell cytokine responses, a proinflammatory macrophage polarization, and other inflammatory responses at the maternal-fetal interface and myometrium in the absence of an increased influx of neutrophils. Finally, we showed that treatment with progesterone can serve as a strategy to prevent preterm labor/birth and adverse neonatal outcomes by attenuating the proinflammatory responses at the maternal-fetal interface and cervix induced by T cell activation. Collectively, these findings provide mechanistic evidence showing that effector and activated T cells cause pathological inflammation at the maternal-fetal interface, in the mother, and in the fetus, inducing preterm labor and birth and adverse neonatal outcomes. Such adverse effects can be prevented by treatment with progesterone, a clinically approved strategy.
Copyright © 2019 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.