Research ArticleHuman Immunology

CD4 T Cells with Effector Memory Phenotype and Function Develop in the Sterile Environment of the Fetus

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Science Translational Medicine  28 May 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 238, pp. 238ra72
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008748

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Neonatal T Cells Wise Beyond Their Years

The uterine environment was traditionally thought to be sterile, and thus, healthy neonates were not predicted to have any memory T cells, because they have not been exposed to infection. However, Zhang et al. found that, contrary to all expectations, umbilical cord blood from healthy neonates does contain T cells that have all the hallmarks of memory cells. Why those cells are there and what role they serve in the fetal environment is still unknown, but these findings suggest that the fetal immune system may be more complex than had been previously suspected, which may affect future vaccine design and treatments for fetal and neonatal infections.