Antibody-Dependent Transplacental Transfer of Malaria Blood-Stage Antigen Using a Human Ex Vivo Placental Perfusion Model
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Prenatal exposure to allergens or antigens released by infections during pregnancy can stimulate an immune response or induce immunoregulatory networks in the fetus affecting susceptibility to infection and disease later in life. How antigen crosses from the maternal to fetal environment is poorly understood. One hypothesis is that transplacental antigen transfer occurs as immune complexes, via receptor-mediated transport across the syncytiotrophoblastic membrane and endothelium of vessels in fetal villi. This hypothesis has never been directly tested. Here we studied Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP1) that is released upon erythrocyte invasion. We found MSP1 in cord blood from a third of newborns of malaria-infected women and in >90% following treatment with acid dissociation demonstrating MSP1 immune complexes. Using an ex vivo human placental model that dually perfuses a placental cotyledon with independent maternal and fetal circuits, immune-complexed MSP1 transferred from maternal to fetal circulation. MSP1 alone or with non-immune plasma did not transfer; pre-incubation with human plasma containing anti-MSP1 was required. MSP1 bound to IgG was detected in the fetal perfusate. Laser scanning confocal microscopy demonstrated MSP1 in the fetal villous stroma, predominantly in fetal endothelial cells. MSP1 co-localized with IgG in endothelial cells, but not with placental macrophages. Thus we show, for the first time, antibody-dependent transplacental transfer of an antigen in the form of immune complexes. These studies imply frequent exposure of the fetus to certain antigens with implications for management of maternal infections during pregnancy and novel approaches to deliver vaccines or drugs to the fetus.
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