Background: Several studies report the role of Regulatory T-cells (Tregs) in the pathophysiology of pregnancy adverse outcomes. Objective: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to determine whether there is an association between regulatory T cell levels and pregnancy adverse outcomes (PAOs), including pre-eclampsia and preterm birth (PTB). Method: Literature searches were conducted in PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, and Cochrane CENTRAL databases. Inclusion criteria were original articles (clinical trials, case-control studies and cohort studies) comparing Tregs, sampled from the decidua or maternal blood, in healthy pregnant women versus women with pre-eclampsia or PTB. The outcome was standardised mean difference (SMD) in Treg numbers. The tau-squared (Tau²), inconsistency index (I²), and chi-squared (χ²) test quantified heterogeneity among different studies. Analyses were performed in RevMan software V.5.4.0 for Mac using a random-effects model with outcome data reported with 95% confidence intervals (CI). This study was prospectively registered with PROSPERO (CRD42020205469). PRISMA guidelines were followed. Results: From 4,085 unique studies identified, 36 were included in qualitative synthesis, and 34 were included in quantitative synthesis (meta-analysis). In total, there were 1,783 participants in these studies: healthy controls=964, pre-eclampsia=759, PTB=60. Thirty-two studies compared Tregs in healthy pregnant women and women with pre-eclampsia, and 30 of these sampled Tregs from peripheral blood showing significantly higher Treg numbers in healthy pregnancies (SMD; 1.46; 95% CI, 1.03–1.88; I²=92%). Four studies sampled Tregs from the maternal decidua showing higher Tregs in healthy pregnancies (SMD, 0.76; 95% CI, -0.13–1.65; I²=84%). No difference was found in the number of Tregs between early versus late pre-eclampsia (SMD,-1.17; 95% CI, -2.79–0.44; I²=94%). For PTB, two studies compared Tregs sampled from the peripheral blood with a tendency for higher Tregs in healthy pregnancies but this did not reach significance (SMD, 2.18; 95% CI, -1.34–5.70; I²=96%). Subcohort analysis using Treg analysis (flow cytometry vs. qPCR vs. immunofluorescence tissue staining) showed similar associations. Conclusion: Lower Tregs in pregnancy, sampled from the maternal peripheral blood, are associated with pre-eclampsia. There is a need for further studies to confirm a relationship between low Tregs and PTB. As the precise mechanisms by which Tregs may mediate pre-eclampsia and PTB remain unclear, further fundamental research is necessary to elucidate the underlying processes and highlight the causative link. Systematic Review Registration: PROSPERO, identifier CRD42020205469.
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- pre-term birth (PTB)
- pregnancy adverse outcomes (PAO)
- regulatory T cells (Tregs)