An Immunohistochemical Study of the Secretory Immune System in Human Fetal Membranes and Decidua of the First Trimester of Pregnancy


Address reprint requests to Itshak Zusman, Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, POB 12, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Problem: We analyzed the presence and distribution of components of the secretory immune system (SIS) in human fetal membranes (amnion, yolk sac, chorion) and decidua from the first trimester of pregnancy.

Materials and methods: Specimens from 17 embryos (4–8 weeks of pregnancy) and nine fetuses (9–12 weeks) were divided into those that had not been exposed to massive foreign antigenic effects (Group I, n = 18) and those that had suffered acute chorioamnionitis (Group II, n = 8).

Results: Positive immunostaining for secretory component (SC), joining (J) chain, IgG, IgA, and macrophages was seen from 4 to 5 weeks of development and then during the whole first trimester of pregnancy in the syncytio-and cytotrophoblasts, the amniotic epithelium, the yolk sac endoderm and decidual cells. Macrophages with J chain, IgG and IgA were found in embryonic tissues on week 4, whereas lymphocytes, including those synthesizing IgA and IgM, appeared only at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. In the decidua, lymphocytes and macrophages were recognized during the whole period of study. In cases with chorioamnionitis (Group II), reactivity of IgG and IgA in the mentioned cells of fetuses decreased sharply while the rate of immunoreactivity of SC and J chain as well as the number of T and B lymphocytes did not change. In the decidua, the number of immune reactive cells sharply increased with the appearance of plasma cells.

Conclusions: In the fetal membranes and decidua all the SIS components are present. We suggest that two SIS, maternal and fetal, participate in the formation of the barrier between a mother and the fetus. Both these systems have different origin and cellular content as well as different immune reactions.