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Increased susceptibility to malaria during pregnancy is not completely understood. Cellular immune responses mediate both pathology and immunity but the effector responses involved in these processes have not been fully characterized. Maternal and fetal cytokine and chemokine responses to malaria at delivery, and their association with pregnancy and childhood outcomes, were investigated in 174 samples from a mother and child cohort from Mozambique. Peripheral and cord mononuclear cells were stimulated with Plasmodium falciparum lysate and secretion of IL-12p70, IFN-γ, IL-2, IL-10, IL-8, IL-6, IL-4, IL-5, IL-1β, TNF, TNF-β was quantified in culture supernatants by multiplex flow cytometry while cellular mRNA expression of IFN-γ, TNF, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10 and IL-13 was measured by quantitative PCR.
Higher concentrations of IL-6 and IL-1β were associated with a reduced risk of P. falciparum infection in pregnant women (p < 0.049). Pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6, IL-1β and TNF strongly correlated among themselves (ρ > 0.5, p < 0.001). Higher production of IL-1β was significantly associated with congenital malaria (p < 0.046) and excessive TNF was associated with peripheral infection and placental lesions (p < 0.044).
Complex network of immuno-pathological cytokine mechanisms in the placental and utero environments showed a potential trade-off between positive and negative effects on mother and newborn susceptibility to infection.