Fetal cell microchimerism: A protective role in autoimmune thyroid diseases

Valentina Cirello, Roberta Rizzo, Milena Crippa, Irene Campi, Daria Bortolotti, Silvia Bolzani, Carla Colombo, Guia Vannucchi, Maria Antonia Maffini, Federica De Liso, Stefano Ferrero, Palma Finelli, Laura Fugazzola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The physiological persistence of fetal cells in the circulation and tissue of a previously pregnant woman is called fetal cell microchimerism (FCM). It has been hypothesized to play a role in systemic autoimmune disease; however, only limited data are available regarding its role in autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD). Design: Circulating FCM was analyzed in a large series of previously pregnant women with Graves' disease (GD), Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT), or no disease (healthy controls (HCs)). To exclude the possible bias related to placental factors, the polymorphic pattern of human leukocyte antigen-G (HLA-G) gene, which is known to be involved in the tolerance of fetal cells by the maternal immune system, was investigated. Methods: FCM was evaluated by PCR in the peripheral blood, and the Y chromosome was identified by fluorescence in situ hybridization in some GD tissues. HLA-G polymorphism typing was assessed by real-time PCR. Results: FCM was significantly more frequent in HC (63.6%) than in GD (33.3%) or HT (27.8%) women (P=0.0004 and P=0.001 respectively). A quantitative analysis confirmed that circulating male DNA was more abundant in HC than it was in GD or HT. Microchimeric cells were documented in vessels and in thyroid follicles. In neither GD/HT patients nor HC women was the HLA-G typing different between FCM-positive and FCM-negative cases. Conclusion: The higher prevalence of FCM in HC as compared to GD and HT patients suggests that it plays a possible protective role in autoimmune thyroid disorders. Placental factors have been excluded as determinants of the differences found. The vascular and tissue localization of microchimeric cells further highlights the ability of those cells to migrate to damaged tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-118
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Endocrinology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Fetal cell microchimerism: A protective role in autoimmune thyroid diseases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this