Cytomegalovirus sero positivity dramatically alters the maternal CD8+ T cell repertoire and leads to the accumulation of highly differentiated memory cells during human pregnancy

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Human pregnancy offers an immunological challenge for the immunocompetent women accommodating an allogenic fetus, while continuing to combat potentially infectious disease. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infects the majority of the human population and establishes lifelong persistence, which can lead to the oligoclonal expansion of differentiated T cells. Primary CMV infection and, less commonly, secondary infection during pregnancy can cause fetal disease and morbidity. The balance between maternal immune competence and viral pathogenicity is thus delicately poised. Our objective was to investigate the influence of CMV serostatus on maternal CD8+ T-cell phenotype and cytokine profile in an apparently healthy cohort of pregnant women. Furthermore, we assessed if CMV serostatus modulated changes in CD8 T cells during gestation.

METHODS

CD8+ T-cell phenotype was investigated in 87 pregnant women with samples obtained both during pregnancy [CMV immunoglobulin G (IgG) + n = 39, CMV IgG− n = 21] and in the early post-natal period (IgG+ n = 16, IgG− n = 11). Multiparameter flow cytometry was used to study T-cell phenotype and HLA-peptide tetramers identified CD8 T cells specific for CMV. Levels of 26 plasma cytokines, chemokines and chemokine receptors were assessed in a separate cohort of 20 women (IgG+ n = 10, IgG− n = 10) followed longitudinally during and after pregnancy.

RESULTS

CMV seropositivity profoundly influenced the T cell repertoire and its dynamics during pregnancy. Naïve CD8+ T-cells (CCR7+CD45RA+) were reduced by 50% in CMV-seropositive women. The proportion of CD45RA effector cells was not increased in CMV-seropositive donors, although this population was more highly differentiated with reduced CD27 and CD28. However, there was a doubling in the proportion of CD45RA+ revertant memory cells (CCR7−CD45RA+) in seropositive donors. Moreover, seropositive women during late pregnancy demonstrated an accumulation of highly differentiated CMV-specific T-cells. T-cell activation independent of CMV was also seen in late pregnancy. No CMV-related changes in plasma cytokines, chemokines or their receptors were observed.

CONCLUSIONS

Thus, CMV serostatus is a crucial consideration in studies of T cell memory and differentiation during pregnancy. The reduction in maternal naïve T cells in CMV-seropositive donors could have implications for the maternal response to infections during pregnancy. These findings shed light on the delicate balance between host, fetus and chronic infection during healthy pregnancy and will inform studies in relation to the importance of CMV on maternal and fetal health.

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