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J Leukoc Biol. 2006 Sep;80(3):572-80. Epub 2006 Jun 30.

Expression of angiogenic growth factors by uterine natural killer cells during early pregnancy.

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  • 1School of Surgical and Reproductive Sciences, 3rd Floor, William Leech Building, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK.


Remodeling of uterine spiral arteries is critical for the continuation of a successful pregnancy. Uterine natural killer (uNK) cells are the predominant leukocyte population in the early pregnant decidua, and a role for these cells in spiral artery remodeling in pregnancy has been suggested. Angiogenic growth factors were measured in isolated uNK and total (unseparated) decidual cells (8-10 or 12-14 weeks gestation, n=5 each gestational age) after culture for 48 h. Angiopoietin (Ang)1, placental growth factor, transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Angiogenin, Ang2, fibroblast growth factor basic, intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1, keratinocyte growth factor (KGF), platelet-derived growth factor-BB, and VEGF-A were measured using a FASTQuant angiogenic growth factor multiplex protein assay. Levels of Ang2, ICAM-1, and KGF, secreted by the total decidual fraction, decreased with increasing gestational age. uNK levels of Ang2 and VEGF-C also decreased with increasing gestational age. At 8-10 weeks gestation, there was no difference in the level of Ang1, Ang2, TGF-beta1, and VEGF-C secreted by uNK cells and the total decidual fraction. At 12-14 weeks, uNK cells secreted significantly lower levels of VEGF-C than the total decidual fraction. Early pregnancy decidua is a major source of angiogenic growth factors whose levels decrease with increasing gestational age, suggesting that they may play a role in spiral artery remodeling. uNK cells appear to be a prominent source of Ang1, Ang2, TGF-beta1, and VEGF-C within the placental bed.

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