Immunomodulatory Effects of Transfusions on Maternal Immunity in Pregnancy

*Emmanuel Ifeanyi Obeagu1, Getrude Uzoma Obeagu2, Joseph Obiezu Chukwujekwu Ezeonwumelu3, Frances Ugonne Ogunnaya4, Anthonia Onyinye Ngwoke5 and Okechukwu Paul-Chima Ugwu6

1Department of Medical Laboratory Science, Kampala International University, Uganda.

2School of Nursing Science, Kampala International University, Uganda.

3Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy, Kampala International University, Western Campus, Ishaka, Bushenyi, Uganda.

4Department of Internal Medicine, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, 201 Lyons Avenue, Newark NJ.

5Department of Human Physiology, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu State, Nigeria.

6Department of Publication and Extension, Kampala International University, Uganda.

*Corresponding author: Emmanuel Ifeanyi Obeagu, Department of Medical Laboratory Science, Kampala International University, Uganda.

E-mail:,, ORCID: 0000-0002-4538-0161


Pregnancy represents a unique immunological state where maternal immune adaptations play a pivotal role in supporting fetal development while maintaining tolerance to the semi-allogeneic fetus. Blood transfusions, often necessary during pregnancy for various medical conditions, present an intriguing avenue for understanding alterations in maternal immunity. This comprehensive review aims to elucidate the intricate immunomodulatory effects of blood transfusions on maternal immunity during pregnancy. Beginning with an exploration of normal immunological changes in pregnancy, this review navigates through the immunomodulatory challenges posed by blood transfusions. The impact of donor factors, transfusion-related immunological components, and their influence on the maternal immune system are scrutinized. Mechanistic insights into altered cytokine responses, adaptive immune changes, and the role of regulatory T cells post-transfusion form critical focal points. Clinically, discerning the implications of altered maternal immunity on fetal, neonatal health, and obstetric outcomes is essential. Assessing risks and benefits associated with transfusions in pregnancy further underscores the clinical relevance of understanding these immunomodulatory effects. Despite advancements, this review acknowledges research gaps and limitations, highlighting the need for future investigations. Recommendations for prospective studies and potential clinical implications conclude this review, emphasizing the significance of comprehending immunomodulation in maternal immunity post-transfusion for optimizing maternal-fetal health. In conclusion, this review encapsulates current knowledge, challenges, and future directions in comprehending the complex interplay between blood transfusions and maternal immune responses during pregnancy, offering valuable insights into a crucial aspect of perinatal medicine.

Keywords: blood transfusions; maternal immunity; pregnancy; immunomodulation; cytokines; alloimmunization; inflammation; transplacental immunomodulation


Pregnancy, an intricate physiological state, orchestrates a delicate balance between maternal immune tolerance and defense while nurturing the developing fetus [1]. Throughout gestation, a myriad of immunological adaptations ensures a harmonious coexistence between the mother’s immune system and the semi-allogeneic fetus [2-6]. However, this equilibrium can be perturbed by various factors, among which blood transfusions emerge as a noteworthy entity triggering alterations in maternal immune responses [7]. The necessity for blood transfusions during pregnancy arises in scenarios involving maternal medical complexities, such as severe anemia, hemorrhage, or hemoglobinopathies, where maintaining maternal health becomes inseparable from safeguarding fetal well-being [8-12]. Yet, the implications of these transfusions on the finely tuned maternal immune system remain an area of burgeoning interest and concern. This paper seeks to delve into the multifaceted interactions between blood transfusions and maternal immunity during pregnancy. We embark on this exploration by first illuminating the normal immunological adaptations intrinsic to pregnancy. These adaptations are essential for sustaining fetal development while simultaneously averting immune-mediated fetal rejection—an exquisite dance orchestrated by the maternal immune system. Subsequently, we venture into the intricate realm where transfusions intersect with maternal immunity [13]. Exploring the immunological components within transfused blood, the impact of donor-related factors, and the subsequent modulation of maternal immune responses post-transfusion will form the core of our investigation. Moreover, understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of these immunomodulatory effects becomes imperative [14]. Alterations in cytokine profiles, shifts in adaptive immune responses, and the involvement of regulatory T cells post-transfusion represent key aspects that demand elucidation.Amidst the scientific curiosity lies the clinical imperative—deciphering the consequences of altered maternal immunity on fetal and neonatal health, as well as obstetric outcomes [15]. An in-depth assessment of risks, benefits, and associated complications stemming from blood transfusions during pregnancy will be intricately woven into our exploration [16-23]. While considerable strides have been made in unraveling these complexities, gaps in understanding persist. Thus, this review not only consolidates existing knowledge but also highlights the pressing need for further research endeavors to fill these lacunae. This paper endeavors to navigate through the landscape where blood transfusions intersect with the finely tuned maternal immune system during pregnancy. By synthesizing current insights, identifying challenges, and delineating future directions, this exploration aims to contribute to the evolving dialogue in perinatal medicine, aiming to optimize maternal and fetal health outcomes.

Immunological Changes in Pregnancy

Immunological changes during pregnancy are fundamental adaptations that support successful gestation, contributing to maternal-fetal tolerance while maintaining the capacity to defend against pathogens [24]. These alterations occur across various components of the immune system and are essential for both protecting the developing fetus and facilitating maternal health. These hormones play pivotal roles in immune modulation during pregnancy. They regulate immune cell function, cytokine production, and the balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses. Shifts in the adaptive immune response involve alterations in T cell subsets, particularly an increase in regulatory T cells (Tregs) that promote immune tolerance to fetal antigens, preventing immune-mediated rejection of the fetus [25]. The placenta serves as an immunological barrier, allowing selective passage of nutrients and oxygen while protecting against pathogens [26]. Specialized immune cells at the maternal-fetal interface, such as decidual natural killer (dNK) cells, play crucial roles in maintaining this delicate balance. These cells undergo functional changes, ensuring a balanced response to pathogens without provoking excessive inflammation, critical for protecting both the mother and the developing fetus Altered regulation of the complement system aids in defending against infections while preventing excessive immune activation at the fetal-maternal interface [27]. Pregnancy shifts the immune response towards Th2 dominance, favoring anti-inflammatory responses and immune tolerance [28]. This shift is essential for preventing rejection of the semi-allogeneic fetus. Increased production of cytokines like IL-10 and TGF-beta promotes immune tolerance and suppresses potentially harmful immune responses against fetal antigens [29-37]. The maternal microbiome undergoes alterations, influencing immune responses [38]. These changes are crucial for maternal health and can also impact fetal development and the immune system’s programming in the offspring. Understanding these immunological changes in pregnancy is vital for comprehending the delicate balance between immune tolerance and defense. These adaptations not only protect the developing fetus but also contribute to maternal health throughout gestation. Dysregulation of these mechanisms can lead to pregnancy complications and adverse outcomes, underscoring the importance of elucidating the complex interplay of the maternal immune system during pregnancy.

 Blood Transfusion and Immunomodulation

Blood transfusion involves the transfer of blood or blood components from a donor to a recipient, often used in various medical scenarios to restore blood volume, improve oxygen-carrying capacity, or manage specific conditions [39-43].  Leukocyte-containing blood products can introduce donor immune cells to the recipient, potentially impacting immune responses [44]. Blood products may contain various immunomodulatory molecules that can influence recipient immune cells upon transfusion. Disparities between donor and recipient HLA antigens can trigger immune responses, potentially leading to alloimmunization or immune reactions [45]. Transfused blood can carry pathogens, prompting immune reactions or infections in recipients. Transfusion-related inflammatory reactions may occur, leading to cytokine release and activation of recipient immune cells [46]. In certain scenarios, transfusions might exert immunosuppressive effects, impacting the recipient’s ability to mount an effective immune response. Exposure to foreign antigens through transfusions can induce alloimmunization, leading to the production of antibodies against donor antigens [47]. Incompatibility reactions may occur if the recipient’s immune system reacts against antigens present in the transfused blood, resulting in acute or delayed immune-mediated responses. The concept of Transfusion-Associated Immunomodulation (TRIM) refers to alterations in recipient immune function post-transfusion, which may impact clinical outcomes, infection susceptibility, and long-term immune health. Immunocompromised individuals, such as pregnant women, neonates, or those with existing immune-related conditions, may experience unique immunomodulatory effects following transfusions [48]. Understanding the immunomodulatory effects of blood transfusions is crucial for optimizing transfusion strategies, managing potential complications, and ensuring the safety and efficacy of transfusion therapies. Further research is necessary to delineate the precise mechanisms underlying these effects and their implications, especially in vulnerable populations like pregnant women, where the balance between immunomodulation and maintaining maternal-fetal health is of paramount importance.

Mechanisms of Immunomodulation

The mechanisms of immunomodulation following blood transfusions involve complex interactions between components within the transfused blood and the recipient’s immune system [49]. Disparities between donor and recipient HLA antigens can lead to antigen presentation by recipient antigen-presenting cells (APCs), triggering immune responses against donor antigens [50]. Minor mismatches in histocompatibility antigens can also stimulate immune recognition and subsequent responses. Transfusions can introduce cytokines and chemokines present in the blood product, influencing recipient immune cells and inducing inflammatory or immunomodulatory responses [51]. Various soluble factors present in the transfused blood, such as prostaglandins, soluble HLA molecules, or immunoglobulins, can modulate recipient immune cell function [52]. If present in the transfused blood, donor leukocytes can interact with recipient immune cells, potentially triggering immune reactions or influencing immune cell function. Components in the transfused blood can activate toll-like receptors (TLRs) in recipient immune cells, initiating innate immune responses [53]. Transfusions may induce regulatory immune responses, promoting immune tolerance to donor antigens and modulating recipient immune cell activity [54]. In certain cases, transfusions might exert immunosuppressive effects, dampening recipient immune responses and affecting the ability to mount an appropriate defense against pathogens. Immunomodulation post-transfusion in pregnant women can impact maternal immune responses, potentially affecting fetal health and pregnancy outcomes [55]. Individuals with compromised immune systems might exhibit altered immunomodulatory effects, impacting their susceptibility to infections or potential complications post-transfusion. Transfusion-related inflammatory reactions can activate recipient immune cells, leading to cytokine release and systemic inflammatory responses [56]. Subsequent transfusions or re-exposure to specific antigens might trigger memory immune responses, impacting the intensity or nature of subsequent immune reactions. Elucidating these mechanisms is critical for understanding the multifaceted immunomodulatory effects of transfusions, determining their clinical implications, and optimizing transfusion practices, especially in vulnerable populations or those requiring frequent transfusions. Continued research is essential to unravel the complexities of these mechanisms and their impact on recipient immune function.

Clinical Implications and Outcomes

The immunomodulatory effects of blood transfusions have several clinical implications and potential outcomes, influencing various aspects of recipient health and treatment [57]. Understanding these implications is crucial for optimizing transfusion practices and ensuring patient safety.  Altered immune responses post-transfusion might affect the recipient’s ability to fight infections, potentially increasing susceptibility to certain pathogens. Blood transfusions may induce immunomodulatory changes in recipients, impacting immune function and potentially affecting long-term immune health [58]. Immunological reactions against transfused antigens can lead to acute transfusion reactions, presenting as fever, hemolysis, or allergic responses. Some recipients may develop delayed immune-mediated complications such as transfusion-related alloimmunization or delayed hemolytic reactions. Exposure to foreign antigens in transfused blood can stimulate the recipient’s immune system to produce antibodies against donor antigens, leading to alloimmunization [59]. Alloimmunization can result in complications during subsequent transfusions, organ transplantation, or pregnancies. Immunomodulation in pregnant women following transfusions might influence maternal immune responses, potentially affecting fetal health and pregnancy outcomes [60]. Development of antibodies due to transfusions can lead to alloimmune reactions in subsequent pregnancies, causing complications such as hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn. Understanding the immunomodulatory effects of transfusions aids in evaluating the risks and benefits associated with transfusion therapy, especially in vulnerable populations. Awareness of potential immunological complications encourages exploring alternative therapies or strategies to reduce transfusion-related risks. Identifying and understanding the precise mechanisms underlying immunomodulation post-transfusion is crucial for improving transfusion safety and efficacy. Insights into immunomodulatory effects may inform the development of guidelines and protocols aimed at minimizing adverse outcomes and optimizing patient care. Acknowledging these clinical implications underscores the importance of ongoing research and vigilant monitoring in transfusion medicine. By comprehending the immunomodulatory effects and their potential impact on recipient health, healthcare practitioners can make informed decisions, mitigate risks, and optimize transfusion strategies for improved patient outcomes.

Research Challenges and Future Directions

Addressing the immunomodulatory effects of blood transfusions presents several research challenges and prompts the exploration of future directions to enhance our understanding and improve clinical outcomes [61]. Understanding the intricate mechanisms by which transfusions modulate recipient immune responses remains a challenge, necessitating detailed studies to dissect these interactions at a molecular and cellular level. Investigating why certain recipients exhibit varied immunomodulatory responses post-transfusion compared to others, considering factors such as patient characteristics and transfusion specifics. Accounting for the diversity in patient populations, including pregnant women, neonates, immunocompromised individuals, and those with underlying conditions, to comprehend how immunomodulation differs among these groups. Exploring the long-term consequences of transfusion-associated immunomodulation on patient immune health, including risks of infections, autoimmune conditions, or altered responses to subsequent therapies. Developing strategies to minimize adverse immunological reactions, alloimmunization, and immune-related complications associated with transfusions, ensuring safer transfusion practices [62]. Investigating alternative transfusion approaches or adjunct therapies that mitigate immunomodulatory effects while maintaining efficacy in treating conditions requiring transfusions. Translating research insights into clinical guidelines or protocols to aid healthcare practitioners in optimizing transfusion strategies based on the evolving understanding of immunomodulation. Establishing standardized approaches or protocols for assessing immunomodulatory effects post-transfusion, facilitating consistent evaluation across different clinical settings. Employing advanced experimental models, including in vitro assays, animal models, and sophisticated computational approaches, to simulate and study immunomodulatory effects in a controlled environment [63]. Leveraging omics technologies (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics) to comprehensively analyze immune responses pre- and post-transfusion, providing a deeper understanding of molecular alterations. Addressing ethical considerations regarding informed consent, risk communication, and patient autonomy in the context of transfusion-related research involving vulnerable populations. Conducting studies that prioritize patient outcomes, preferences, and safety to shape transfusion strategies that align with patient needs and values. Addressing these research challenges and advancing these future directions holds promise for unraveling the complexities of transfusion-induced immunomodulation. Through interdisciplinary collaborations and innovative approaches, researchers can pave the way for safer transfusion practices and improved clinical management while considering the diverse needs of patients receiving transfusions.


In conclusion, the immunomodulatory effects of blood transfusions during pregnancy and in diverse patient populations represent a multifaceted area of study with significant clinical implications. Throughout this exploration, it becomes evident that comprehending the complexities of transfusion-induced immunomodulation is crucial for optimizing patient care, particularly in vulnerable cohorts like pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals. The intricate interplay between transfused blood components and recipient immune systems presents both opportunities and challenges. While blood transfusions serve as life-saving interventions, their potential to modulate immune responses necessitates a thorough understanding of the mechanisms underlying these effects. In moving forward, interdisciplinary collaboration, innovative methodologies, and a patient-centered approach will be instrumental in addressing these challenges and advancing our understanding of transfusion-induced immunomodulation. This knowledge will not only refine transfusion practices but also guide the development of tailored interventions, ultimately enhancing the safety and efficacy of transfusion therapies while prioritizing the well-being of diverse patient populations.


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CITE AS: Emmanuel Ifeanyi Obeagu, Getrude Uzoma Obeagu, Joseph Obiezu Chukwujekwu Ezeonwumelu, Frances Ugonne Ogunnaya, Anthonia Onyinye Ngwoke and Okechukwu Paul-Chima Ugwu (2023). Immunomodulatory Effects of Transfusions on Maternal Immunity in Pregnancy. NEWPORT INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL AND APPLIED SCIENCES (NIJBAS) 3(3):1-8.