The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences


Rachel Tepper


The immunological paradox of nurturing a fetus with paternal antigens poses some perplexing questions. Peter Medawar, an immunologist, asked at a lecture, “How does the pregnant mother contrive to nourish within itself, for many weeks or months, a fetus that is an antigenically foreign body?” Researchers have since then struggled to answer this question. The research on this topic has led to a few general hypotheses that try to explain this phenomenon. The downregulation of T cells toward paternal alloantigens is an accepted hypothesis. Another hypothesis discusses the significance of the decidua and its ability to impair dendritic cells, which are potent antigen presenting cells and critical in initiating an immune response (Ehrlbacher, 2010). Mechanical barrier and cytokine-shift hypotheses also attempt to explain the “riddle of the fetal allograft.” Research is ongoing as there is no one clear answer to this query. Some of these hypotheses have flaws in them while others don’t explain enough in regard to the safety of a woman and her fetus. There is one hypothesis that appears to hold the greatest significance in understanding the maternofetal relationship and the successful births of millions of children each year: local active suppression in the decidua.



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