PROBLEM: Apoptosis has been accepted as a mechanism for maintaining tolerance in the immune system. The induction of apoptotic cell death can also be a possible outcome of the lymphocyte activation. Expression of Fas ligand (FasL) by the human trophoblast has been proposed as a mechanism providing protection against the lytic action of decidual immune cells. The aim of this study was to determine whether decidual T cells undergo apoptosis during abortion.
METHOD OF STUDY: We studied apoptosis of T cells isolated from the first-trimester decidua in 12 women after spontaneous or elective abortion. We used gel electrophoresis to detect DNA fragmentation. Cells undergoing DNA fragmentation also were identified by DNA analysis using flow cytometry. This method was based on the accumulation of ethanol-fixed apoptotic cells in the sub-GO/G1 peak of the DNA content as a result of the loss of DNA fragments from the cells and because of a reduced DNA ability to be stained by propidium iodide. In addition, the expression of Fas antigen on the surface of decidual T cells (CD3+) also was determined.
RESULTS: We did not detect apoptosis by the “ladder” technique. However, the apoptotic index (the percentage of positive cells per total number of cells) ranged from 2% to 24% using flow cytometry.
CONCLUSIONS: Trophoblast cells usually fail to stimulate alloantigen-specific T cells, but they may express nonclassical major histocompatibility complex alloantigens to which mothers can produce immunoglobulin G alloantibody, which requires T helper cell activation. The apoptosis of T cells in the human decidua, probably through Fas-FasL signaling, may be a defense mechanism against rejection of the fetal allograft by the maternal immune system.