Increased numbers of FoxP3+ cells in vaginal mucus from normal pregnant mice suggest early antigen-specific tolerance mechanism during pregnancy



The fetal survival within the maternal uterus is thought to be due to a transient immunological tolerance, being CD4+CD25+ T regulatory cells (Tregs) crucial players. Former studies confirmed diminished total numbers of this unique population in abortion-prone mice (DBA/2J-mated CBA/J females) as compared to a control with normal pregnancy outcome (BALB/c-mated CBA/J females) and suggested that Tregs act in an antigen-specific fashion. This hypothesis led us to investigate the kinetics of Tregs during pregnancy (day 0, 2, 5, 8, 10 or 12 of pregnancy) in abortion-prone mice and the control group. Our data confirmed diminished number of Tregs in immunological relevant organs such as lymph nodes and thymus within the abortion-prone mice. The enormous augmentation in the number of FoxP3+ cells in vaginal mucus already on day 0.5 after conception, followed by increased Tregs levels at early pregnancy stages, suggest, that Tregs need to be activated by male antigens for being protective. Notably, the abortion-prone mice displayed again a lower total amount of Tregs as compared to the control. Similar progesterone levels in spite of different pregnancy outcome reinforce the theory of antigen specificity of pregnancy-induced Tregs. The antigen presentation would take place in the periphery e.g. in vaginal mucus, the first site of contact with paternal antigens, directly after insemination. Interestingly the transfer of Tregs from normal pregnant mice at this time point prevented fetal rejection. Our results suggest the crucial role of Tregs already shortly after conception.