We tested whether nonspecific tumoricidal immune cells can suppress congenital malformations by killing precursor cells destined to cause such defects. Pretreatment of pregnant ICR mice with synthetic (Pyran copolymer) and biological (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) agents significantly suppressed radiation- and chemical-induced congenital malformations (cleft palate, digit anomalies, tail anomalies, etc.). Such suppressive effects were associated with the activation of maternal macrophages by these agents, but were lost either after the disruption of activated macrophages by supersonic waves or by inhibition of their lysosomal enzyme activity with trypan blue. These results indicate that a live activated macrophage with active lysosomal enzymes can be an effector cell to suppress maldevelopment. A similar reduction by activated macrophages was observed in strain CL/Fr, which has a high spontaneous frequency of cleft lips and palates. Furthermore, Pyran-activated maternal macrophages could pass through the placenta, and enhanced urethane-induced cell killing (but not somatic mutation) in the embryo. It is likely that a maternal immunosurveillance system eliminating preteratogenic cells allows for the replacement with normal totipotent blast cells during the pregnancy to protect abnormal development.

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