medRxiv. 2023 Dec 30:2023.12.29.23300544. doi: 10.1101/2023.12.29.23300544. Preprint.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus activates maternal and placental immune responses, which in the setting of other infections occurring during pregnancy are known to impact fetal brain development. The effects of maternal immune activation on neurodevelopment are mediated at least in part by fetal brain microglia. However, microglia are inaccessible for direct analysis, and there are no validated non-invasive surrogate models to evaluate in utero microglial priming and function. We have previously demonstrated shared transcriptional programs between microglia and Hofbauer cells (HBCs, or fetal placental macrophages) in mouse models. Here, we assessed the impact of maternal SARS-CoV-2 on HBCs isolated from term placentas using single-cell RNA-sequencing. We demonstrated that HBC subpopulations exhibit distinct cellular programs, with specific subpopulations differentially impacted by SARS-CoV-2. Assessment of differentially expressed genes implied impaired phagocytosis, a key function of both HBCs and microglia, in some subclusters. Leveraging previously validated models of microglial synaptic pruning, we showed that HBCs isolated from placentas of SARS-CoV-2 positive pregnancies can be transdifferentiated into microglia-like cells, with altered morphology and impaired synaptic pruning behavior compared to HBC models from negative controls. These findings suggest that HBCs isolated at birth can be used to create personalized cellular models of offspring microglial programming.