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Keywords:

  • placenta;
  • Hofbauer cells;
  • fetal macrophages;
  • preterm delivery;
  • villitis of unknown etiology;
  • chorioamnionitis

Hofbauer cells (HBCs) are placental macrophages that are present in the villus across gestation. Despite their identification more than 100 years ago, their specific role in placental function remains largely unelucidated. We initially review aspects of their history and biology as well as evidence for putative sites of origin. To gain insight into their potential function, we then describe complications of pregnancy including villitis of unknown etiology (VUE) and histological chorioamnionitis (HCA), in which alterations in numbers, gene expression, or other characteristics of HBCs have been documented to occur. We further review methods for isolation of HBCs and in vitro studies that explore their role in relation to other major cell types in the placenta and examine their actions in cytokine-mediated inflammation. We conclude that HBCs play a key role in placental pathophysiology, and future advances in their isolation and culture would enable mechanistic insight into their villus function.