The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 54: 531 - 543 (2010)

Vol 54, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Placenta

Naturally acquired microchimerism

Review | Published: 2 November 2009

Hilary S. Gammill*,1,2 and J. Lee Nelson1,3

1Department of Clinical Research, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 2Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, University of Washington and 3Department of Medicine, Rheumatology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA


Bi-directional transplacental trafficking occurs routinely during the course of normal pregnancy, from fetus to mother and from mother to fetus. In addition to a variety of cell-free substances, it is now well recognized that some cells are also exchanged. Microchimerism refers to a small number of cells (or DNA) harbored by one individual that originated in a genetically different individual. While microchimerism can be the result of iatrogenic interventions such as transplantation or transfusion, by far the most common source is naturally acquired microchimerism from maternal-fetal trafficking during pregnancy. Microchimerism is a subject of much current interest for a number of reasons. During pregnancy, fetal microchimerism can be sought from the mother’s blood for the purpose of prenatal diagnosis. Moreover, studies of fetal microchimerism during pregnancy may offer insight into complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, as well as insights into the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis which usually ameliorates during pregnancy. Furthermore, it is now known that microchimerism persists decades later, both fetal microchimerism in women who have been pregnant and maternal microchimerism in her progeny. Investigation of the long-term consequences of fetal and maternal microchimerism is another exciting frontier of active study, with initial results pointing both to adverse and beneficial effects. This review will provide an overview of microchimerism during pregnancy and of current knowledge regarding long-term effects of naturally acquired fetal and maternal microchimerism.


microchimerism, pregnancy, fetal-maternal trafficking, autoimmune disease

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