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J Immunol. 2010 Oct 1;185(7):3913-8. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1001637. Epub 2010 Aug 27.

Immature NK cells, capable of producing IL-22, are present in human uterine mucosa.

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Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


NK cells are the dominant population of immune cells in the endometrium in the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle and in the decidua in early pregnancy. The possibility that this is a site of NK cell development is of particular interest because of the cyclical death and regeneration of the NK population during the menstrual cycle. To investigate this, we searched for NK developmental stages 1-4, based on expression of CD34, CD117, and CD94. In this study, we report that a heterogeneous population of stage 3 NK precursor (CD34(-)CD117(+)CD94(-)) and mature stage 4 NK (CD34(-)CD117(-/+)CD94(+)) cells, but not multipotent stages 1 and 2 (CD34(+)), are present in the uterine mucosa. Cells within the uterine stage 3 population are able to give rise to mature stage 4-like cells in vitro but also produce IL-22 and express RORC and LTA. We also found stage 3 cells with NK progenitor potential in peripheral blood. We propose that stage 3 cells are recruited from the blood to the uterus and mature in the uterine microenvironment to become distinctive uterine NK cells. IL-22 producers in this population might have a physiological role in this specialist mucosa dedicated to reproduction.

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