Open Access Research article

Long-term persistence and effects of fetal microchimerisms on disease onset and status in a cohort of women with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus

Marianne Kekow1*, Maria Barleben1, Susanne Drynda2, Sibylle Jakubiczka3, Jörn Kekow2 and Thomas Brune1

Author Affiliations

1 Children's Hospital, University of Magdeburg, Leipziger Str. 44, Magdeburg 39120, Germany

2 Clinic of Rheumatology, University of Magdeburg, Sophie-von-Boetticher-Strasse 1, Vogelsang, Gommern 39245, Germany

3 Institute of Human Genetics, University of Magdeburg, Leipziger Str. 44, Magdeburg 39120, Germany

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:325  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-325

Published: 18 November 2013



The discovery of a fetal cells transfer to the mother is a phenomenon with multiple implications for autoimmunity and tolerance. The prevalence and meaning of the feto-maternal microchimerism (MC) in rheumatic diseases has not been thoroughly investigated. The aim of this study was to analyze the prevalence of fetal MC in patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases and to investigate the association of MC with disease onset and current status.


A total of 142 women who gave birth to at least one male offspring were recruited: 72 women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), 16 women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and 54 healthy women. For the detection of fetal microchimerism a nested PCR method was used to amplify a Y chromosome specific sequence (TSPY1). For characterization of disease activity we analyzed autoantibody profiles and X-rays in RA, and in addition complement levels in SLE respectively.


A significant higher prevalence of fetal MC was found in RA (18%) and SLE (31%) compared to controls (3.7%) (p = 0.02 and p = 0.006, resp.). The mean age at disease onset was comparable in MC + and MC- RA patients. Disease onset occurred 18.7 (MC +) and 19.8 (MC-) years post partum of the first son, respectively. The presence of anti-CCP and RF did not differ significantly, anti-CCP were found in 75% of MC + and 87% of MC- patients, RF in 75% of both MC + and MC- patients. A slightly higher mean Steinbrocker score in MC + patients was associated with longer disease duration in MC + compared to MC- RA. In SLE patients the mean age at disease onset was 42.6 years in MC + and 49.1 years in MC- patients. Disease onset occurred 24.0 and 26.4 years post partum of the first son for MC + and MC- patients, respectively. The presence of ANA and anti-dsDNA antibodies, C3, C4 and CH50 did not differ significantly.


Our results indicate a higher frequency of long-term male MC in RA and SLE patients compared with controls without impact on disease onset and status in RA and SLE.

Microchimerism; RA; SLE; Pregnancy