Recent advances in our understanding of dendritic cells (DCs) and their role in tolerance and immunity has fuelled study of their normal development and function within the reproductive tract. The common hypothesis that pregnancy is a state of immune suppression or deviation now includes the idea that alterations in DC phenotype and function are critical for maternal tolerance. We chose to study DCs in the uterus and lymphoid tissue in non-pregnant and pregnant mice at mid-gestation to understand what DC-related factors may be involved in premature birth. We used a mouse model where the mother’s immune system has been shown to respond to the male antigen H-Y. Observed differences among DCs in the uterus, uterine draining nodes and spleen, even in non-pregnant mice, suggest the existence of a specialized uterus-specific subset of DCs. We further found that, amongst CD45+ CD11c+ cells in the uterus and peripheral lymphoid tissue of pregnant mice, expression of major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC II) and costimulatory molecules (i.e. CD80) was similar to that in the non-pregnant state. Moreover, there was no pregnancy-related decrease in the proportion of CD11c+ cells in the uterus or in the uterine node that were CD11b− CD8+. Pregnancy increased the CD11b+ subsets and the expression of chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 6 (CCL6) in DCs of the uterine draining nodes. Finally, DC subsets showed variable expression, with respect to tissue and pregnancy, of the cytokine interleukin-15, which is important in lymphoid cell homeostasis. For DCs, pregnancy is not a state of immune paralysis, but of dynamic developmental change
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