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Reprod Biomed Online. 2008 Feb;16(2):218-26.

Uterine NK cells in murine pregnancy.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6.


Murine uterine natural killer (uNK) cells are transient, short-lived, terminally differentiated lymphocytes found in decidualized endometrium. Cells expressing natural killer cell surface markers are present in uteri of infant mice. Terminal uNK cell differentiation coincides with mesometrial decidual development subsequent to blastocyst implantation and begins about gestation day 5. uNK cells proliferate rapidly and, within 3 days, senescent uNK cells appear in normal implantation sites. Mid-gestation, senescent cells become dominant and uNK cell numbers decline until term when remaining cells are shed with the placenta. Transplantable uNK cell progenitors occur outside the uterus, suggesting that blood cell homing augments any in-utero progenitors. Early in healthy pregnancies, uNK cells produce cytokines and angiogenic molecules. Their lytic capacity in normal gestation and in pregnancy failure is incompletely defined. A significant shift recently occurred in thinking about major uNK cell functions. Activated uNK cells are now considered critical for appropriate endometrial angiogenesis in early implantation site development and in non-gestational endometrium. Because analogous cells appear in the endometria of women during each menstrual cycle and become abundant in early pregnancy, studies involving experimental pregnancy termination in genetically manipulated mice continue to have great importance for understanding regulation at the human maternal-fetal interface.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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