Pregnancy represents an immunological challenge for the maternal immune system. Pregnancy augments innate immune responses, and particularly monocytes contribute to maintaining the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory immune responses required for the successful sequence of distinct immunological phases throughout pregnancy. Nonetheless, studies that focus on the heterogeneity of monocytes and analyze the alteration of monocyte subsets in a longitudinal approach throughout healthy pregnancies have remained scarce. In this study, we characterized the gradual phenotypic changes of monocyte subsets and the secretory potential of bulk monocytes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of healthy pregnant women from a population-based prospective birth cohort study. Blood samples at predefined time points were analyzed using flow cytometry for in-depth characterization of monocyte subsets, which confirmed a shift from classical towards intermediate monocytes throughout pregnancy. Principal component analysis revealed characteristic phenotypic changes on monocyte subsets, especially on the intermediate monocyte subset, throughout pregnancy. Pregnancy-related hormones were measured in serum and β-human chorionic gonadotropin levels were significantly associated with expression of CD11b, CD116 and CCR2 on monocyte subsets. TLR4 and TLR7/8 stimulation of monocytes furthermore showed reduced polycytokine production towards the end of pregnancy. These data provide a comprehensive overview of phenotypic changes and secretory potential of monocytes in healthy pregnant women and establish a selective contribution of different monocyte subsets to healthy pregnancy. The results from this study therefore build a basis for future comparisons and evaluation of women with adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Keywords: Immunophenotyping; Intracellular cytokines; Monocyte subsets; Pregnancy; Pregnancy-related hormones.
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