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Mol Immunol. 1997 Apr;34(5):419-30.

Human uterine NK cells have a similar repertoire of killer inhibitory and activatory receptors to those found in blood, as demonstrated by RT-PCR and sequencing.

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  • 1Research Group in Human Reproductive Immunobiology, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, U.K.


The expression of natural killer (NK) cell receptors specific for HLA class I molecules has been studied in CD56bright, CD3- NK cells isolated from the pregnant uterine mucosa, the decidua. RT-PCR was performed on cDNA from uterine NK cells with primers designed to amplify members of the killer inhibitory receptor (KIR)/killer activatory receptor (KAR) gene family. Sequencing of the PCR products revealed that uterine NK cells express KIR/KAR which have two or three extracellular immunoglobulin superfamily (Ig-SF) domains. NK receptors for both groups of HLA-C alleles were found. KIR, characterised by a long cytoplasmic tail containing the immune receptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motif (ITIM), and KAR, characterised by a short cytoplasmic domain with a transmembrane region containing a charged lysine, were both identified. Different individuals appear to have a distinct but overlapping repertoire of KIR/KAR. No new members of this NK receptor gene family were identified in the uterine CD56bright NK cells. Similar findings were obtained from non-pregnant endometrial tissues representative of different stages of the menstrual cycle. Immunohistology confirmed that the KIR protein products were expressed by decidual NK cells. These results reveal that NK receptors for trophoblast HLA class I molecules are present in maternal uterine NK cells. Fetal trophoblast cells infiltrating the decidua express HLA-G and HLA-C gene products. This suggests that maternal recognition of the fetus may be mediated by an NK allorecognition system.

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