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Summary

Cell transmission from mother to offspring was demonstrated using mice with green fluorescent protein (GFP) transgenic markers. GFP transgene heterozygous (+/−) females were mated with GFP (−/−) males, and GFP+ cells in the GFP (−/−) fetuses generated between them were analysed to assess maternal blood cell transmission to conceptuses in utero. The GFP+ maternal cells were observed throughout the body of the fetuses, as shown by fluorescence stereomicroscopy. Cell entrance into the fetal immune system was shown by histochemical and flow cytometric analyses of fetal organs such as thymus, spleen and liver. The GFP+ maternal cells persisted in the offspring until postpartum. Next, GFP (−/−) neonates fed by GFP+ foster mothers were examined to study the transfer of maternal milk leucocytes to offspring through breast-feeding. GFP+ leucocytes that had infiltrated through the wall of the digestive tract were mainly localized in the livers of neonates. Their accumulation in the livers reached a maximum on days 5 or 6, and these cells became undetectable, as assessed by either histochemistry or flow cytometry, after day 9 of starting foster nursing. Collectively, the present results demonstrate two independent pathways of maternal cell transmission to offspring: transplacental passage during pregnancy and breast-feeding after birth.