Predictors of maternal-origin microchimerism in young women in the Philippines

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2021 Feb;174(2):213-223. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.24191. Epub 2020 Dec 9.


Objectives: Microchimerism is the presence of a small quantity of cells or DNA from a genetically distinct individual. This phenomenon occurs with bidirectional maternal-fetal exchange during pregnancy. Microchimerism can persist for decades after delivery and have long-term health implications. However, little is known about why microchimerism is detectable at varying levels in different individuals. We examine the variability and the following potential determinants of maternal-origin microchimerism (MMc) in young women in the Philippines: gestational duration (in utero exposure to MMc), history of being breastfed (postpartum exposure to MMc), maternal telomere length (maternal cells' ability to replicate and persist), and participant's pregnancies in young adulthood (effect of adding fetal-origin microchimerism to preexisting MMc).

Materials and methods: Data are from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, a population-based study of infant feeding practices and long-term health outcomes. We quantified MMc using quantitative PCR (qPCR) in 89 female participants, ages 20-22, and analyzed these data using negative binomial regression.

Results: In a multivariate model including all predictors, being breastfed substantially predicted decreased MMc (detection rate ratio = 0.15, p = 0.007), and there was a trend of decreasing MMc in participants who had experienced more pregnancies (detection rate ratio = 0.55, p = 0.057).

Discussion: These results might be explained by breastfeeding having lasting impact on immune regulatory networks, thus reducing MMc persistence. MMc may also decrease in response to the introduction of fetal-origin microchimerism with pregnancies experienced in adulthood.

Keywords: biological inheritance; developmental origins; immune tolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data
  • Chimerism*
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA / classification
  • DNA / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / genetics
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / genetics
  • Philippines
  • Pregnancy / genetics*
  • Pregnancy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • DNA