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J Immunol. 2003 Jul 1;171(1):37-46.

The uterine NK cell population requires IL-15 but these cells are not required for pregnancy nor the resolution of a Listeria monocytogenes infection.

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  • 1Center for the Study of Reproductive Biology and Women's Health, Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


During pregnancy in mice, uterine natural killer (uNK) cells abundantly accumulate on the mesometrial side of the placenta. In this study, we show that the presence of both mature and immature uNK cells requires IL-15. Bone marrow transplantation of NK cell-negative mice due to null mutations in the recombination-activating gene (Rag) 2/common cytokine receptor gamma-chain (Rag2(-/-)gamma(c)(-/-)) genes indicated that uNK cells originate from the bone marrow and require IL-15 to develop. NK cells are thought to be central players in the immune response to intracellular pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that also has a predilection for replication in the placenta. However, IL-15(-/-), NK cell-deficient mice were relatively protected from this infection compared with wild-type mice, and during pregnancy the absence of NK cells did not compromise the immune response at this site. The loss of uNK cells results in decidual abnormalities, including thickening of the arterial walls with luminal narrowing and a hypocellular decidua basalis. These defects were rescued by bone marrow transplantation of the Rag2(-/-)gamma(c)(-/-) mice that restored the uNK cell population. The decidual abnormalities in the IL-15(-/-) mice however did not result in infertility as gestation times and litter sizes were comparable to those of wild-type mice. Fetal weights were mildly compromised, consistent with the arterial pathologies. These results show that uNK cells are not required for successful pregnancy and that NK cells are not essential for an adequate immune response to L. monocytogenes in either pregnant or nonpregnant mice.

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