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J Immunol. 2009 Apr 1;182(7):4085-92. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0803769.

Vascular endothelial growth factor C facilitates immune tolerance and endovascular activity of human uterine NK cells at the maternal-fetal interface.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Women and Infants Hospital-Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI 02905, USA.


Although replete with cytotoxic machinery, uterine NK (uNK) cells remain tolerant at the maternal-fetal interface. The mechanisms that facilitate the uNK cell tolerance are largely unknown. In this study, we demonstrate that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) C, a proangiogenic factor produced by uNK cells, is responsible for their noncytotoxic activity. VEGF C-producing uNK cells support endovascular processes as demonstrated in a three-dimensional coculture model of capillary tube formation on Matrigel. Peripheral blood NK cells fail to produce VEGF C and remain cytotoxic. This response can be reversed by exogenous VEGF C. We show that cytoprotection by VEGF C can be related to induction of the TAP-1 expression and MHC class I assembly in target cells. Small interfering RNA-mediated silencing of TAP-1 expression abolished the VEGF C-imparted protection. Overall, these results demonstrate that empowerment of uNK cells with angiogenic factors keeps them noncytotoxic. This phenotype is critical to their pregnancy-compatible immunovascular role during placentation and fetal development.

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