Problem Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA)-G is a class Ib gene located in the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Several lines of investigation indicate that the HLA-G molecule is involved in the maternal acceptance of the semi-allogenic fetus during pregnancy and in the development of tolerance. Expression of soluble HLA-G (sHLA-G) is positively correlated with successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, and aberrant expression of HLA-G in certain complications of pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia and spontaneous abortion, has been reported. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the levels of different soluble HLA-G isoforms in maternal plasma in early and late pregnancy.
Method of study Soluble HLA-G (sHLA-G) can be detected in maternal blood, and in this study, two different isoforms of sHLA-G, namely sHLA-G1 generated by shedding of membrane-bound HLA-G1 and HLA-G generated by specific HLA-G transcripts, have been investigated early [median of 16.4 weeks of gestation (GW)] and late (median: 38.9 GW) in pregnancy in an original cohort of 580 pregnant Caucasian women.
Results Lower concentrations of sHLA-G1 were found late in pregnancy (>32 GW) in a group of women with severe pre-eclampsia compared with controls with uncomplicated pregnancies (P = 0.029, PC = 0.09; Mann–Whitney; Logistic regression analysis: P = 0.024, OR = 0.920, 95% CI: 0.855–0.989). However, this was not the case with HLA-G5, and significantly more of the cases with severe pre-eclampsia had detectable plasma HLA-G5 compared with that of the control group (P = 0.013, PC = 0.04; Mann–Whitney). Similar findings were not observed in women with gestational hypertension or existing hypertension continuing into pregnancy. Furthermore, there was a trend toward lower maternal plasma sHLA-G1 in a group of women with premature birth (<37 GW) compared with that of the control group (P = 0.028, PC = 0.17; Mann–Whitney). On the contrary, HLA-G5 was lower in the control group compared with that in the premature group (P = 0.004, PC = 0.02; Mann–Whitney).
Conclusion This study shows in line with other published studies that a high, detectable soluble HLA-G concentration in maternal plasma or serum is not mandatory for a successful pregnancy. However, complications during pregnancy, such as (severe) pre-eclampsia, spontaneous abortion, IUGR, and premature birth, are associated with a low or undetectable level of soluble HLA-G in the maternal blood circulation. Also, this study indicates that sHLA-G1 is the interesting soluble HLA-G isoform in pre-eclampsia, and that low or undetectable levels of HLA-G5 at the end of pregnancy seem to be associated with an uncomplicated normal pregnancy, whereas in severe pre-eclampsia and possibly other pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth and IUGR, the level of HLA-G5 is higher.