VIP modulates the pro-inflammatory maternal response, inducing tolerance to trophoblast cells


Rosanna Ramhorst, Laboratory of Immunopharmacology, School of Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Int. Guiraldes 2160, Ciudad Universitaria, Pabellón 2 Piso 4, Buenos Aires (C1428EHA), Argentina. E-mail:


Background and purpose:  Successful embryo implantation is followed by a local pro-inflammatory and Th1 response, subsequently controlled by a Th2 response. Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) has anti-inflammatory effects and promotes tolerogenic/Th2 responses while favouring embryonic development. We investigated the potential regulatory role of VIP on human trophoblast cells, maternal pro-inflammatory responses and trophoblast-maternal leukocyte interactions.

Experimental approach:  We tested VIP effects directly on a trophoblast cell line (Swan 71 cells) and after co-culture with maternal peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) as models of the feto-maternal dialogue. We also co-cultured maternal and paternal PBMCs to test effects of endogenous VIP on maternal alloresponses.

Key results:  Swan 71 cells express VPAC1 receptors and VIP induced their proliferation and the expression of leukaemia inhibitor factor, a pro-implantatory marker. After interaction with trophoblast cells, VIP increased Foxp3, the proportion of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ cells within maternal PBMCs and transforming growth factor β expression. Also, during the trophoblast-maternal PBMCs interaction, VIP reduced pro-inflammatory mediators [interleukin (IL)-6, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, nitric oxide], while increasing IL-10. Trophoblast cells produced VIP which dose-dependently suppressed allomaternal responses, accompanied by reduced expression of the T cell transcription factor, T-bet.

Conclusions and implications:  Vasoactive intestinal peptide induced pro-implantatory markers and trophoblast cell proliferation, while controlling the initial pro-inflammatory response, by increasing maternal regulatory T cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines. As an autocrine regulatory peptide VIP might contribute to fetal survival through two mechanisms; a direct trophic effect on trophoblast cells and an immunomodulatory effect that favours tolerance to fetal antigens.