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A photo of Tamara Tilburgs.

Member, Division of Immunobiology

Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics


Biography & Affiliation


Dr. Tilburgs’ laboratory investigates how maternal immune cells establish immune tolerance to fetal and placental allo-antigens and remain competent to respond to infections both systemically and in placental tissues. Development of novel methods to purify and culture primary human decidual immune cells as well as the invasive HLA-C and HLA-G expressing extravillous trophoblasts (EVT) from placental tissues, during her doctoral and postdoctoral training has led to the extensive characterization of these cells as well as their functional interactions. A major advance of her work was the realization that HLA-C expression on EVT has a dual role in immune tolerance and immunity at the maternal-fetal interface. First paternal HLA-C expressed by EVT is the key molecule that can elicit allogeneic immune responses by maternal T and NK cells and for which maternal-fetal tolerance needs to be established. Secondly, HLA-C is the only classical MHC molecule expressed by EVT that can present a wide variety of peptides to maternal memory T cells and establish protective immunity. In addition, HLA-C is also a major determinant for NK cell inhibition and activation. Current projects in the Tilburgs’ lab include i) Investigation of the mechanisms by which decidual NK cells, effector T cells and regulatory T cells recognize HLA-C allo-antigens and its relevance in the development of pregnancy complications such as spontaneous preterm birth and preeclampsia; and ii) Identification of factors that regulate decidual CD8+ T cell and decidual NK cell function and dysfunction that allows for placental and fetal development, as well as a reversal of their dysfunctional state to provide immunity to placental infections. This work may identify novel mechanisms to induce or activate antigen specific Treg that suppress detrimental placental inflammatory responses and may also reveal unexpected ways to activate NK and T cells to control placental infections and diminish congenital disease due to maternal to fetal transmission of pathogens.

Academic Affiliation

Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics


Immunobiology, Center for Inflammation and Tolerance


PhD: Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, Netherlands, 2004-2008.

Post Doctoral Fellowship: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2009-2013.

Instructor: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2014-2019.


Selected Publication

The Dual Role of HLA-C in Tolerance and Immunity at the Maternal-Fetal Interface. Papúchová, H; Meissner, TB; Li, Q; Strominger, JL; Tilburgs, T. Frontiers in Immunology. 2019; 10.

Three Types of Functional Regulatory T Cells Control T Cell Responses at the Human Maternal-Fetal Interface. Salvany-Celades, M; van der Zwan, A; Benner, M; Setrajcic-Dragos, V; Gomes, HA B; Iyer, V; Norwitz, ER; Strominger, JL; Tilburgs, T. Cell Reports. 2019; 27:2537-2547.e5.

Mixed signature of activation and dysfunction allows human decidual CD8(+) T cells to provide both tolerance and immunity. van der Zwan, A; Bi, K; Norwitz, ER; Crespo, AC; Claas, FH J; Strominger, JL; Tilburgs, T. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 2018; 115:385-390.

HLA-G: At the Interface of Maternal-Fetal Tolerance. Ferreira, LM R; Meissner, TB; Tilburgs, T; Strominger, JL. Trends in Immunology. 2017; 38:272-286.

Cytotoxic potential of decidual NK cells and CD8+T cells awakened by infections. Crespo, AC; van der Zwan, A; Ramalho-Santos, J; Strominger, JL; Tilburgs, T. Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 2017; 119:85-90.

Expression of KIR2DS1 by decidual natural killer cells increases their ability to control placental HCMV infection. Crespo, AC; Strominger, JL; Tilburgs, T. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 2016; 113:15072-15077.

A distant trophoblast-specific enhancer controls HLA-G expression at the maternal-fetal interface. Ferreira, LM R; Meissner, TB; Mikkelsen, TS; Mallard, W; O'Donnell, CW; Tilburgs, T; Gomes, HA B; Camahort, R; Sherwood, RI; Gifford, DK; et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 2016; 113:5364-5369.

The HLA-G cycle provides for both NK tolerance and immunity at the maternal-fetal interface. Tilburgs, T; Evans, JH; Crespo, AC; Strominger, JL. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 2015; 112:13312-13317.

CD8+ Effector T Cells at the Fetal-Maternal Interface, Balancing Fetal Tolerance and Antiviral Immunity. Tilburgs, T; Strominger, JL. American journal of reproductive immunology and microbiology : AJRIM. 2013; 69:395-407.

Two Unique Human Decidual Macrophage Populations. Houser, BL; Tilburgs, T; Hill, J; Nicotra, ML; Strominger, JL. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2011; 186:2633-2642.