The conceptual framework for reproductive immunology was put in place over 50 years ago when the survival of the fetal semi-allograft within an immunocompetent mother was first considered. During this time, a number of paradigms have emerged and the mechanisms receiving current attention are those related to immune tolerance, such as regulatory T-cells and indoleamine 2,3,-dioxygenase, and innate immunity, such as natural killer cells, trophoblast debris and inflammation.

A key consideration is the temporal and spatial variation in any of these pathways (e.g. implantation v. parturition). As fetally derived trophoblasts are the semi-allogeneic cells with which the maternal immune system comes into contact, understanding the immune response to these cells is critical.

There is much interest in the immunological pathways that support a healthy pregnancy and how they might be perturbed in adverse pregnancy outcomes. Additionally, there is increasing awareness that antenatal determinants of the immune function of pregnant women and their offspring have consequences for health and disease in childhood and beyond.

Changes in maternal diet over recent decades coincide with the increasing prevalence of allergic and other immune-mediated diseases, and the modification of maternal diet has emerged as a strategy for disease prevention.

Approaches undergoing trial at numerous sites around the world include dietary supplementation with fish oil and/or probiotics. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of any positive effect on disease outcomes should reveal further novel strategies for disease prevention.