The fetal inflammatory response syndrome: the origins of a concept, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and obstetrical implications

Eunjung Jung, Roberto Romero, Lami Yeo, Ramiro Diaz-Primera, Julio Marin-Concha, Robert Para, Ashley M. Lopez, Percy Pacora, Nardhy Gomez-Lopez, Bo Hyun Yoon, Chong Jai Kim, Stanley M. Berry, Chaur Dong Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


The fetus can deploy a local or systemic inflammatory response when exposed to microorganisms or, alternatively, to non-infection-related stimuli (e.g., danger signals or alarmins). The term “Fetal Inflammatory Response Syndrome” (FIRS) was coined to describe a condition characterized by evidence of a systemic inflammatory response, frequently a result of the activation of the innate limb of the immune response. FIRS can be diagnosed by an increased concentration of umbilical cord plasma or serum acute phase reactants such as C-reactive protein or cytokines (e.g., interleukin-6). Pathologic evidence of a systemic fetal inflammatory response indicates the presence of funisitis or chorionic vasculitis. FIRS was first described in patients at risk for intraamniotic infection who presented preterm labor with intact membranes or preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes. However, FIRS can also be observed in patients with sterile intra-amniotic inflammation, alloimmunization (e.g., Rh disease), and active autoimmune disorders. Neonates born with FIRS have a higher rate of complications, such as early-onset neonatal sepsis, intraventricular hemorrhage, periventricular leukomalacia, and death, than those born without FIRS. Survivors are at risk for long-term sequelae that may include bronchopulmonary dysplasia, neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy, retinopathy of prematurity, and sensorineuronal hearing loss. Experimental FIRS can be induced by intra-amniotic administration of bacteria, microbial products (such as endotoxin), or inflammatory cytokines (such as interleukin-1), and animal models have provided important insights about the mechanisms responsible for multiple organ involvement and dysfunction. A systemic fetal inflammatory response is thought to be adaptive, but, on occasion, may become dysregulated whereby a fetal cytokine storm ensues and can lead to multiple organ dysfunction and even fetal death if delivery does not occur (“rescued by birth”). Thus, the onset of preterm labor in this context can be considered to have survival value. The evidence so far suggests that FIRS may compound the effects of immaturity and neonatal inflammation, thus increasing the risk of neonatal complications and long-term morbidity. Modulation of a dysregulated fetal inflammatory response by the administration of antimicrobial agents, anti-inflammatory agents, or cell-based therapy holds promise to reduce infant morbidity and mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101146
JournalSeminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chorioamnionitis
  • Congenital dermatitis
  • Cytokines
  • FIRS
  • Fetal cytokine release syndrome
  • Fetal cytokine storm
  • Fetal hematophagocytic syndrome
  • Fetal macrophage activation-like syndrome
  • Funisitis
  • Interleukin-6
  • Intra-amniotic infection
  • Intra-amniotic inflammation
  • Neonatal encephalopathy
  • Neonatal morbidity
  • Neonatal sepsis
  • Neuroinflammation perinatal morbidity
  • Premature birth
  • Prematurity
  • Preterm labor
  • Preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes (preterm PROM)
  • Retinopathy of prematurity
  • Sensorineuronal hearing loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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