It has been suggested previously that phagocytic activity in the human placenta is confined to cells of the macrophage lineage. However, earlier studies were hampered by the paucity and poor viability of cells inherent in primary trophoblast cell cultures, contamination by other cell types which themselves have phagocytic activity, lack of reliable markers of trophoblasts, and by limitations of methods available to demonstrate unequivocally the internalization of particulate material. We have overcome these limitations by using: (i) DNA transfection to provide unlimited supplies of pure trophoblast cell lines; (ii) human placental lactogen as a marker unique to trophoblast; and (iii) confocal microscopy of demonstrate unequivocally the intracellular locality of phagocytosed material. We found that both untransfected primary culture extravillous trophoblast cells, as well as the cell lines, had the capacity to phagocytose sheep red blood cells, Staphylococcus aureus and baker's yeast cells, and that this activity was inhibited by cytochalasin B and by culture at 4°C. Phagocytic activity in trophoblast cells was less avid than that seen in a professional phagocyte. In physiological and pathological situations where tissue remodelling occurs, such as the rapid turnover in the periodontal ligament or during inflammation, epithelial cells and other cells that are not considered professional phagocytes actively phagocytose components of the extracellular matrix. We postulate that phagocytosis by human trophoblasts may play an important role in the extensive tissue remodelling that occurs during trophoblastic invasion of the decidua.
Copyright (C) 1998, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology
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