Can murine uterine natural killer cells give insights into the pathogenesis of preeclampsia?
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These studies aimed to advance understanding of the functions of pregnancy-associated uterine lymphocytes of the natural killer (NK) cell lineage. The approach was morphometric analysis of implantation sites from timed pregnancies in genetically modified mice deficient in NK cells or in signaling associated with their major product, the cytokine interferon-gamma. In four different strains of pregnant, NK cell--deficient mice, the major decidual arterioles failed to undergo modifications to their smooth-muscle coats and displayed endothelial cell damage. Decidua lacked normal cell density. This pathology was observed by the end of the first trimester, before placental differentiation. By midgestation in these strains, placentas were smaller than in control strains. In normal mice, many uterine NK cells are perivascular in location and appear to be activated because they are the major sources of interferon-gamma and of the interferon-gamma--regulated enzyme inducible nitric oxide synthase. During pregnancy in mice genetically ablated for interferon-gamma, the interferon-gamma receptor chain-alpha or the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor-1, uterine NK cells differentiate but appear to be abnormal both morphologically and functionally. In these three strains, failure of pregnancy-induced vascular modifications and overt necrosis of decidua occur. Thus, in mice, lymphocytes of the NK cell lineage make specialized contributions to pregnancy-associated modification of the uterine vasculature and to maintenance of decidua. These contributions are achieved through interferon-gamma--mediated gene regulation and appear to enhance subsequent placental growth. Human CD56 bright decidual lymphocytes may have analogous functions. If so, changes in numbers or levels of activity of human uterine NK cells or mutations in genes regulated by uterine interferon-gamma could contribute to initiation of preeclampsia.
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