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Isolation of Hofbauer Cells from Human Term Placentas with High Yield and Purity


Seth Guller, Department of OB/GYN, Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street-339 FMB, P.O. Box 208063, New Haven, CT 06520-8063, USA. E-mail:


Citation Tang Z, Tadesse S, Norwitz E, Mor G, Abrahams VM., Guller S. Isolation of Hofbauer cells from human term placentas with high yield and purity. Am J Reprod Immunol 2011; 66: 336–348

Problem  Placental villus macrophages (i.e., Hofbauer cells, HBCs) were identified more than 100 years ago. Alterations in their numbers and characteristics are associated with several complications of pregnancy. Although HBCs have previously been isolated and cultured, there is no consensus methodology to obtain these cells with high yield and purity for in vitro studies.

Method of study  Hofbauer cells were isolated from human term placentas using protocols in which cytotrophoblasts (CTs) and fibroblasts (FIBs), other major villous cell types, were isolated in parallel. Enzymatic digestion, Percoll gradients, and immunoselection were used to isolate the three cell types. Purity was assessed by morphology, flow cytometry, and phagocytosis assays.

Results  Hofbauer cells were isolated with 98–99% purity and a yield of 130–200 × 106 cells/80–100 g of tissue. HBCs exhibited a pleiomorphic and vacuolated appearance for at least 5 days in culture medium with and without serum. High levels of phagocytosis in HBCs, but not in CTs or FIBs, confirmed macrophage function in HBCs. Phagocytotic activity was maintained across several days in culture.

Conclusion  Hofbauer cells were isolated from term placenta with high yield and purity using protocols in which CTs and FIBs were also obtained. This methodology will foster future studies that examine the role of HBCs in regulating villus function.