Cellular localization of CD4 in the human placenta: Implications for maternal-to-fetal transmission of HIV

Michael Dale Lairmore, Peggy S. Cuthbert, Lori L. Utley, Claudia J. Morgan, Charlene S. Dezzutti, Clark L. Anderson, Daniel D. Sedmak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


CD4 is a 55-kDa glycoprotein that serves as an important cellular differentiation Ag and cell signaling protein on T lymphocytes, as well as a principal receptor for HIV-1 on a variety of cell types including lymphocytes. CD4 receptor expression in syncytiotrophoblasts, the principal cellular barrier in the human placenta, has not been clearly defined. Knowledge concerning the expression of the CD4 receptor on placental trophoblasts is important to define potential mechanisms of transmission of the virus between maternal blood and fetal tissues. Both mature and immature placenta (n = 10) were examined using an avidin D-based immunohistochemical procedure that permits clear morphologic distinction of cell types in placental sections. Syncytiotrophoblasts were defined using anti-cytokeratin mAb (AE1/3), whereas endothelial cells in placental villi were distinctly identified using a mAb directed to CD31. Placental Hofbauer cells (macrophages) and other leukocytes were identified by mAb staining of leukocyte common Ag (CD45). CD4 expression (identified by staining with three separate anti-CD4 mAb) was exclusively localized using this immunohistochemical method to leukocytes in placental villi (e.g., Hofbauer cells); however, no CD4 staining was evident in syncytiotrophoblasts, cytotrophoblasts, or villus endothelial cells. Furthermore, immunoaffinity-purified trophoblasts were negative for CD4 receptor expression. CD4 RNA was not identified in purified trophoblasts using both Northern blot assay and a sensitive polymerase chain reaction method to identify CD4 RNA. In addition, time course studies of purified trophoblasts immediately after purification and at 24, 48, and 72 h in culture indicated that CD4 RNA was not present as a transient, but labile transcript in trophoblasts. These data indicate that the transmission of HIV-I across syncytiotrophoblasts may occur by mechanisms other than by binding the CD4 receptor and that tissue leukocytes (in particular Hofbauer cells) are likely the principal CD4+ cellular target of HIV-1 in the placenta.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1673-1681
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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