Neonatal sepsis and chorioamnionitis induce morphologic modifications and shrinkage of the thymus. We show fetal and neonatal morphologic modifications of the spleen in the same autopsy subjects as previously used to describe thymus shrinkage, including 10 preterm or full-term neonates who died of proven sepsis within 48 hours after birth and 20 fetuses spontaneously aborted because of extensive ascending chorioamnionitis. Control subjects included 10 fetuses from induced termination of pregnancy and 10 neonates who died suddenly during the perinatal period without evidence of chorioamnionitis. Spleen cell populations were studied by means of immunohistochemical analysis. Neonatal sepsis occurred with severe spleen depletion, involving both B and T lymphocytes (P < .001). Fetuses with chorioamnionitis also showed spleen cell depletion. These observations, to our knowledge not described before, indicate that preterm and term neonates show an inflammatory reaction similar to that of adult patients and that severe chorioamnionitis is associated with a nonspecific inflammatory response comparable to that of sepsis.

Author notes

Funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Rome (research of national interest), 2001.