medRxiv. 2024 Feb 7:2024.02.05.24301794. doi: 10.1101/2024.02.05.24301794. Preprint.


Pregnancy is a risk factor for increased severity of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections. The mechanisms underlying this risk have not been well-established, partly due to a limited understanding of how pregnancy shapes immune responses. To gain insight into the role of pregnancy in modulating immune responses at steady state and upon perturbation, we collected peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), plasma, and stool from 226 women, including 152 pregnant individuals (n = 96 with SARS-CoV-2 infection and n = 56 healthy controls) and 74 non-pregnant women (n = 55 with SARS-CoV-2 and n = 19 healthy controls). We found that SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with altered T cell responses in pregnant compared to non-pregnant women. Differences included a lower percentage of memory T cells, a distinct clonal expansion of CD4-expressing CD8 + T cells, and the enhanced expression of T cell exhaustion markers, such as programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) and T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-3 (Tim-3), in pregnant women. We identified additional evidence of immune dysfunction in severely and critically ill pregnant women, including a lack of expected elevation in regulatory T cell (Treg) levels, diminished interferon responses, and profound suppression of monocyte function. Consistent with earlier data, we found maternal obesity was also associated with altered immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection, including enhanced production of inflammatory cytokines by T cells. Certain gut bacterial species were altered in pregnancy and upon SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnant individuals compared to non-pregnant women. Shifts in cytokine and chemokine levels were also identified in the sera of pregnant individuals, most notably a robust increase of interleukin-27 (IL-27), a cytokine known to drive T cell exhaustion, in the pregnant uninfected control group compared to all non-pregnant groups. IL-27 levels were also significantly higher in uninfected pregnant controls compared to pregnant SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals. Using two different preclinical mouse models of inflammation-induced fetal demise and respiratory influenza viral infection, we found that enhanced IL-27 protects developing fetuses from maternal inflammation but renders adult female mice vulnerable to viral infection. These combined findings from human and murine studies reveal nuanced pregnancy-associated immune responses, suggesting mechanisms underlying the increased susceptibility of pregnant individuals to viral respiratory infections.

PMID:38370801 | PMC:PMC10871456 | DOI:10.1101/2024.02.05.24301794