Background: Chronic chorioamnionitis is found in more than one-third of spontaneous preterm births. Chronic chorioamnionitis and villitis of unknown etiology represent maternal anti-fetal cellular rejection. Antibody-mediated rejection is another type of transplantation rejection. We investigated whether there was evidence for antibody-mediated rejection against the fetus in spontaneous preterm birth. Methods and Findings: This cross-sectional study included women with (1) normal pregnancy and term delivery (n = 140) and (2) spontaneous preterm delivery (n = 140). We analyzed maternal and fetal sera for panel-reactive anti-HLA class I and class II antibodies, and determined C4d deposition on umbilical vein endothelium by immunohistochemistry. Maternal anti-HLA class I seropositivity in spontaneous preterm births was higher than in normal term births (48.6% vs. 32.1%, p = 0.005). Chronic chorioamnionitis was associated with a higher maternal anti-HLA class I seropositivity (p<0.01), significant in preterm and term birth. Villitis of unknown etiology was associated with increased maternal and fetal anti-HLA class I and II seropositivity (p<0.05, for each). Fetal anti-HLA seropositivity was closely related to maternal anti-HLA seropositivity in both groups (p<0.01, for each). C4d deposition on umbilical vein endothelium was more frequent in preterm labor than term labor (77.1% vs. 11.4%, p<0.001). Logistic regression analysis revealed that chronic chorioamnionitis (OR = 6.10, 95% CI 1.29-28.83), maternal anti-HLA class I seropositivity (OR = 5.90, 95% CI 1.60-21.83), and C4d deposition on umbilical vein endothelium (OR = 36.19, 95% CI 11.42-114.66) were associated with preterm labor and delivery. Conclusions: A major subset of spontaneous preterm births has a signature of maternal anti-fetal cellular and antibody-mediated rejections with links to fetal graft-versus-host disease and alloimmune reactions.
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