Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Suppression of human T-cell colony formation during pregnancy


THE human fetus, as a natural allograft, escapes destruction by the maternal immune system. As a possible mechanism, Alexander1 proposed a rapid shedding of transplantation antigens by embryonic cells, resulting in a blindfolding of the otherwise fully functional maternal immune system. Other investigators have reported a suppressive activity of lymphoid cells from human cord blood on the proliferation of maternal lymphocytes2,3. Suppressor T cells are induced by α-fetoprotein in mice4, and the elevated levels of α-fetoprotein during pregnancy have been shown to exert an immunosuppressive influence in mice5,6 and in man7. Olding8 demonstrated a soluble factor from mitogen stimulated lymphoid cells of human newborns suppressing the proliferation of maternal lymphocytes. These observations point out that the embryo might protect itself by release of soluble factors, acting either themselves as lymphocyte suppressive agents, and/or by the induction of suppressor cells. However, no direct evidence has so far been presented to show the presence and action of T-cell suppressor cells in the immune system of pregnant women. Such an experiment would have to use components of the immune system of pregnant women solely, and therein demonstrate an immune suppression as compared to non-pregnant individuals. We present here results indicating that the ability of T cells from pregnant women to proliferate in soft agar cultures is strongly inhibited, regardless of the source of the serum being used in the assay, thus pointing rather to a cell-mediated suppressor mechanism.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Alexander, P. Cancer Res. 34, 2077–2082 (1974).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Olding, L. B., & Oldstone, M. B. A. J. Immun. 116, 682–686 (1976).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Oldstone, M. B. A., Tishon, A. & Moretta, L. Nature 269, 333–335 (1977).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Murgita, R. A., Goidl, E. A., Kontiainen, S. & Wigzell, H. Nature 267, 257–259 (1977).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Zimmermann, E. F., Voorting-Hawking, M. & Michael, J. G. Nature 265, 354–356 (1977).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Murgita, R. A. Scand. J. Immun. 5, 1003–1014 (1976).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Auer, I. O. & Kress, H. G. Cell Immun. 30, 173–180 (1977).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Olding, L. B., Murgita, R. A. & Wigzell, H. J. Immun. 119, 1109–1114 (1977).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Böyum, A. Scand. J. clin. Lab. Invest. 21, Suppl. 97, 77 (1968).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cunningham-Rundles, S. Clin. Immunobiology Vol. 3 (eds Bach, F. H. & Good, R. A.) 151–195 (Academic, New York, 1968).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Aiuti, F. et al. J. clin. Immun. Immunopath. 3, 584–597 (1975).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Rosenszajn, L. A., Shoham, D. & Kalechman, I. Immunology 29, 1041–1055 (1975).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fibach, E., Gerassi, E. & Sachs, L. Nature 259, 127–128 (1976).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

STAHN, R., FABRICIUS, HÅ. & HARTLEITNER, W. Suppression of human T-cell colony formation during pregnancy. Nature 276, 831–832 (1978).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing