The susceptibility of murine trophoblast cells to natural cell-mediated cytotoxicity has been assessed. Primary short-term cultures of murine trophoblast cells isolated from 14-day placentas were found to be resistant to endogenous and interferon-activated natural killer (NK) cells and natural cytotoxic cells. That the relevant target structures are expressed on the surface of trophoblast cells and accessible to the effectors was demonstrated by their ability to inhibit the lysis of NK-sensitive target cells (YAC-1) in a dose-dependent manner. The lytic resistance of trophoblast cells was unaffected by neuraminidase treatment, inhibition of protein synthesis, or extending the assay time to 12 hr. Moreover, trophoblast cells were resistant to antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity when coated with an alloantibody capable of mediating their lysis in the presence of heterologous complement. Neither the preincubation of effector cells in concentrated trophoblast culture supernatants nor the direct exposure of effectors to monolayers of trophoblast cells inhibited their NK lytic activity, indicating that the secretion of a suppressive factor or the direct inactivation of the NK cells was not responsible for the observed resistance to lysis. These observations, together with previous results showing the resistance of trophoblast to cytotoxic T cell-mediated lysis, reveal that murine trophoblast cells possess a resistance mechanism against several forms of cell-mediated lysis. This feature of trophoblast cells at the maternal-fetal interface is likely to play an important role in protecting the fetoplacental allograft from immune rejection.
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