Researchers from the University of Adelaide have discovered a connection between immune cells called macrophages and successful pregnancy. According to the research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, macrophages produce progesterone and with adequate levels of progesterone pregnancies are more apt to be successful.

Progesterone is an important reproductive hormone responsible for critical beginning stages of pregnancy. Macrophages are white blood cells that surround and digest foreign bodies. Macrophages are extremely important in normal, healthy immune function as they protect the body against pathogens, but macrophages are also responsible for removal of dead cells and debris from cells. These white blood cells are commonly found in connective tissue. 

According to study authors, macrophages are also found in the connective tissues of the ovary where they promote progesterone production. Progesterone is required to initiate pregnancy. If women have insufficient numbers of macrophages in ovarian tissue progesterone levels could be affected thus increasing the risk of miscarriage per impaired embryo development. 

Looking deeper into the problem, researchers assumed a connection between environmental and lifestyle issues and decreased levels of macrophages. Obesity, stress and environmental factors can increase inflammatory response. With greater inflammatory response may come lower macrophage levels in ovarian tissue and thus less progesterone production. 

Researchers note that women undergoing assisted reproductive technology to increase chance of pregnancy are often given progesterone as part of therapy. However, based upon study findings, progesterone supplementation could be a viable treatment for women with recurring miscarriage. 

Professor Robertson, study author, “If macrophages are shown to play the same role in women as we’ve seen in our laboratory studies, this gives us potential new avenues for targeting them with lifestyle and nutritional intervention, improving fertility by advancing the quality of the conception environment.”

Source: Alison S. Care, Kerrilyn R. Diener, Melinda J. Jasper, Hannah M. Brown, Wendy V. Ingman, and Sarah A. Robertson. Macrophages regulate corpus luteum development during embryo implantation in mice. J Clin Invest. doi:10.1172/JCI60561.

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