Transplantation of allogeneic stem cells into the early gestational fetus, a treatment termed in utero hematopoietic cell transplantation (IUHCTx), could potentially overcome the limitations of bone marrow transplants, including graft rejection and the chronic immunosuppression required to prevent rejection. However, clinical use of IUHCTx has been hampered by poor engraftment, possibly due to a host immune response against the graft. Since the fetal immune system is relatively immature, we hypothesized that maternal cells trafficking into the fetus may pose the true barrier to effective IUHCTx. Here, we have demonstrated that there is macrochimerism of maternal leukocytes in the blood of unmanipulated mouse fetuses, with substantial increases in T cell trafficking after IUHCTx. To determine the contribution of these maternal lymphocytes to rejection after IUHCTx, we bred T and/or B cell–deficient mothers to wild-type fathers and performed allogeneic IUHCTx into the immunocompetent fetuses. There was a marked improvement in engraftment if the mother lacked T cells but not B cells, indicating that maternal T cells are the main barrier to engraftment. Furthermore, when the graft was matched to the mother, there was no difference in engraftment between syngeneic and allogeneic fetal recipients. Our study suggests that the clinical success of IUHCTx may be improved by transplanting cells matched to the mother.
Amar Nijagal, Marta Wegorzewska, Erin Jarvis, Tom Le, Qizhi Tang, Tippi C. MacKenzie