The intervillous space of the placenta is a part of the fetal-maternal interface, where maternal blood enters to provide nutrients and gas exchange. Little is known about the maternal immune cells at this site, which are in direct contact with fetal tissues. We have characterized the T cell composition and chemokine profile in paired intervillous and peripheral blood samples from healthy mothers giving birth following term pregnancies. Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells and effector memory (EM) T cells were enriched in the intervillous blood compared to peripheral blood, suggesting that MAIT cells and other EM T cells home to the placenta during pregnancy. Furthermore, pregnant women had lower proportions of peripheral blood MAIT cells compared to non-pregnant women. The levels of several chemokines were significantly higher in intervillous compared to peripheral blood, including macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), CXCL10, and CCL25, whereas CCL21, CCL27 and CXCL12 were lower. Migration assays showed that MAIT cells and EM T cells migrated toward conditioned medium from placental explants. A multivariate factor analysis indicated that high levels of MIF and CCL25 were associated with high proportions of MAIT cells in intervillous blood. Blocking of MIF or a combination of MIF, CCL25, and CCL20 in migration assays inhibited MAIT cell migration toward placenta conditioned medium. Finally, MAIT cells showed migratory capacities toward recombinant MIF. Together, these findings indicate that term placental tissues attract MAIT cells, and that this effect is at least partly mediated by MIF.
Keywords: MAIT cells; MIF; T cells; chemokines; intervillous space; placenta; reproductive immunology.