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Keywords:

  • CD8+  T cells;
  • effector memory;
  • fetal–maternal tolerance;
  • HLA-C;
  • mHag;
  • virus

During pregnancy CD8+ effector T cells need optimal immune regulation to prevent a detrimental response to allogeneic fetal cells while providing immune protection to infections. A significant proportion of (prospective) mothers carry naïve or memory CD8+ T cells with a TCR that can directly bind to paternal MHC molecules. In addition, a high percentage of pregnant women develop specific T cell responses to fetal minor histocompatibility antigens (mHags). Under normal conditions, fetal–maternal MHC and mHag mismatches lead to elevated lymphocyte activation but do not induce pregnancy failure. Furthermore, viral infections alter the maternal CD8+ T cell response by changing the CD8+ T cell repertoire and increasing the influx of CD8+ T cells to decidual tissue. The normally high T cell activation threshold at the fetal–maternal interface may prevent efficient clearance of viral infections. Conversely, the increased inflammatory response due to viral infections may break fetal–maternal tolerance and lead to pregnancy complications. The aim of this review is to discuss the recent studies of CD8+ T cells in pregnancy, identify potential mechanisms for antigen-specific immune recognition of fetal extravillous trophoblast (EVT) cells by CD8+ T cells, and discuss the impact of viral infections and virus-specific CD8+ T cells during pregnancy.