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Keywords:

  • Lymphocyte subset;
  • postpartum;
  • pregnancy

PROBLEM: Pregnancy affects the maternal immune system and the clinical course of maternal diseases. Here we report the changes in the detailed lymphocyte subsets of helper T cells, suppressor T cells, CD5+ B cells, T cell receptor (TCR) αβ-positive T cells (Tαβ cells), TCRαβ-negative T cell (Tγδ cells), and others during and after pregnancy through to one year postpartum, and discuss the significance of the changes.

METHOD: The absolute numbers of helper T cells, suppressor T cells, cytotoxic T cells, TCRαβ-negative T cells (Tγδ cells), CD5 B cells, CD5+ B cells, and NK cell subsets were examined by two-color flow cytometry in peripheral blood from 51 healthy non-pregnant women, 106 healthy pregnant women, and 148 healthy postpartum women.

RESULTS: In early pregnancy, the numbers of suppressor T cells and NK cells with strong cytotoxicity (NK+++ cells) increased, and the number of cytotoxic T cells decreased. In late pregnancy, the helper T cell and NK+++ cell numbers decreased. Tαβ, CD5 B and CD5+ B cells decreased during pregnancy. After delivery, helper T cells and cytotoxic T cells increased from 1 to 4 months postpartum, and suppressor T cells increased at 7 months postpartum. TCRαβ-negative T cells increased at 4 to 10 months postpartum. Both CD5 and CD5+ B cells decreased further at 1 month postpartum, but CD5+ B cells increased markedly at 7 to 10 months postpartum.

CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that 1) early increases of suppressor T cells and NK+++ cells during pregnancy may be related to the mechanism to accept or reject the fetus in early pregnancy, respectively; 2) late decreases of helper T cells and NK+++ cells may be related to the maintenance of pregnancy: 3) postpartum increases of helper T cells, cytotoxic T cells, TCRαβ-negative T cells (Tγδ cells), and CD5+ B cells may be related to the postpartum aggravation of autoimmune diseases; and 4) the immunological effects of pregnancy remains until about 1 year after delivery.