• Immunology;
  • placenta;
  • pregnancy;
  • T-cell receptor

PROBLEM: Preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal morbidity and premature fetal delivery in the United States, most likely involving the immune system in disease genesis. In this report, we tested the hypothesis that a superantigen phenomenon is an important factor in the pathogenesis of the disease. METHOD OF STUDY: A semi-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to assess T-cell receptor (TCR) β chain variable (Vβ) regions as an indicator of T-cell expansion in both peripheral blood and basal plate of preeclamptic patients. All the subjects were also molecularly typed to identify their HLA-class II alleles. RESULTS: In peripheral blood of the majority of the patients, there was a high abundance of the Vβ4 gene family, which was not observed in the control group. Polyclonality of this Vβ gene family was confirmed by analysis of the Vα chain and the complementary determining region 3 (CDR3). The majority of patients carried the Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA)-DRB1*13 allele. CONCLUSION: We present evidence for the existence of a superantigen-like effect in at least a subset of patients with preeclampsia.