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Biol Reprod. 2000 Apr;62(4):959-68.

Human decidual natural killer cells express the receptor for and respond to the cytokine interleukin 15.

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Research Group in Human Reproductive Immunobiology, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QP, England.


The natural killer (NK) cells that are present in the uterine mucosa (decidua) during early pregnancy have a distinctive phenotype, CD56(bright) CD16(-). These cells have previously been shown to proliferate and be activated by interleukin (IL)-2. However, IL-2 is absent from the decidua and placenta, and we have therefore investigated whether IL-15 is present in the uterus and can act on decidual NK cells. Both IL-15 mRNA and protein were found in a variety of cells but particularly in decidual macrophages. IL-15 induced a proliferative response in decidual NK cells that was blocked by anti-IL-15 and was augmented by stem cell factor. The cytolytic activity of decidual NK cells against K562 was augmented. Interestingly, in contrast to IL-2, although activation with IL-15 resulted in some killing of JEG-3 choriocarcinoma cells, normal trophoblast cells remained resistant to lysis. These findings suggest that IL-15 is a candidate cytokine responsible for NK cell proliferation in vivo in the progesterone-dominated secretory endometrium and early decidua.

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