Remission of Rheumatoid Arthritis During Pregnancy and Maternal-Fetal Class II Alloantigen Disparity


Address reprint requests to J. Lee Nelson, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, Division of Clinical Research Center, 1124 Columbia St., Seattle, WA 98104.


ABSTRACT: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder known to be associated with specific class II genes. Although it has been known since 1938 that the majority of women with RA experience disease improvement or remission during pregnancy, the reasons remain unknown. Pregnancy represents an immunologic challenge and maternal immune recognition of the semi-allogeneic fetus occurs as part of normal pregnancy. We hypothesized that maternal immune response to fetal HLA antigens might be associated with the effect of pregnancy on arthritis activity. To test this hypothesis, we studied HLA antigens in mother-child pairs comparing maternal-fetal HLA antigen sharing for pregnancies where arthritis improved with those where disease was active. No significant difference was observed in the two groups for class I HLA antigens. Fetal-maternal disparity for HLA-DR and HLA-DQ antigens was observed significantly more frequently in pregnancies with remission or improvement compared with those in which disease was active. These observations suggest that maternal immune response to fetal paternally-inherited class II HLA antigens may be important in RA remission observed during pregnancy.