Up Regulation of the Maternal Immune Response in the Placenta of Cattle Naturally Infected with Neospora caninum

A. Rosbottom, H. Gibney, P. Kaiser, C. Hartley, R.F. Smith, R. Robinson, A. Kipar, D.J.L. Williams

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Neospora caninum is an intracellular protozoan parasite which is a major cause of abortion in cattle worldwide. It forms persistent infections which recrudesce during pregnancy leading to foetal infection and in a proportion of cases, abortion. The mechanisms underlying abortion are not understood. In this study, recrudescence of a persistent infection in eight naturally infected cows occurred between 20 and 33 weeks of gestation. Animals were killed at the time of recrudescence and parasites were detected in the placentae and foetuses. An active maternal immune response consisting of an infiltration of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and a 46–49 fold increase in interferon-γ and interleukin-4 mRNA was detected. Other cytokines, notably interleukin-12 p40, interleukin-10 and tumour necrosis factor-α were also significantly increased and Major Histocompatibility Class II antigen was expressed on maternal and foetal epithelial and stromal fibroblastoid cells. Significantly, despite the presence of an active maternal immune response in the placenta, all the foetuses were alive at the time of maternal euthanasia. There was evidence of parasites within foetal tissues; their distribution was restricted to the central nervous system and skeletal muscle and their presence was associated with tissue necrosis and a non-suppurative inflammatory response involving lymphocytes and macrophages, irrespective of the gestational age of the foetus. Whilst an active maternal immune response to a pathogen in the placenta is generally considered to be damaging to the foetal trophoblast, our findings suggest that the presence of a parasite-induced maternal immune response in the placenta is not detrimental to foetal survival but may contribute to the control of placental parasitosis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15799
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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