Polystyrene microplastics disturb maternal-fetal immune balance and cause reproductive toxicity in pregnant mice

Reprod Toxicol. 2021 Dec:106:42-50. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2021.10.002. Epub 2021 Oct 7.


Microplastics (MPs), which are emerging as a new type of environmental pollutants, have raised great concerns regarding their threats to human health. A successful pregnancy depends on the sophisticated regulation of the maternal-fetal immune balance, but the risks of polystyrene MP (PS-MP) exposure in early pregnancy remain unclear. In this study, we exposed the C57BL/6-mated BALB/c mice to PS-MP particles and used the flow cytometry to explore threats towards the immune system. Herein, the allogeneic mating murine model showed an elevated embryo resorption rate with a 10 μm PS-MP particle exposure during the peri-implantation period. Both the number and diameter of uterine arterioles decreased, which might reduce the uterine blood supply. Moreover, the percentage of decidual natural killer cells was reduced, whereas the helper T cells in the placenta increased. In addition, the M1/M2 ratio in macrophages reversed significantly to a dominant M2-subtype. Lastly, the cytokine secretion shifted towards an immunosuppressive state. Overall, our results demonstrated that PS-MPs have the potential to cause adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes via immune disturbance, providing new insights into the study of reproductive toxicity of MP particles in the human body.

Keywords: Immune disturbance; Microplastics; Pregnancy failure; Reproductive toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Embryo Loss / chemically induced*
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Fetus / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microplastics / toxicity*
  • Placenta / drug effects*
  • Placenta / immunology
  • Polystyrenes / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy


  • Cytokines
  • Microplastics
  • Polystyrenes