DEC 26, 2017 7:57 AM PST

Nourishing Immune Cells in the Uterus Promote Early Fetal Growth

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Immune cells in the uterus that produce important growth-promoting factors could be both the explanation for and the solution to recurrent spontaneous abortions affecting pregnant women worldwide. In a new study published in the journal Immunity, scientists explore natural killer cells in the uterus.

An artistic representation of how decidual NK cells promote fetal growth during early pregnancy. Credit: Binqing Fu

Natural killer (NK) cells are some of the most plentiful cells in the uterus during pregnancy, but only during the first trimester; the NK cell population decreases after formation of the placenta. However, while NK cells remain abundant, a specific subset of these cells plays the vital role of producing pleiotrophin and osteoglycin, growth-promoting factors found in both humans and mice.

Co-senior author Haimin Wei praises the study for both identifying new characteristics of natural killer cells in the context of pregnancy and for highlighting “approaches for therapeutic administration of natural killer cells in order to reverse restricted nourishment within the uterine microenvironment.”

Pregnant women with a smaller-than-normal population of pleiotrophin- and osteoglycin-producing NK cells in the uterine lining were found to be more likely to experience recurrent spontaneous abortion, also known as recurrent miscarriage, habitual abortion, or recurrent pregnancy loss; it occurs in about 15 percent of all “clinically recognized” pregnancies. This condition is thought to happen due to what Wei calls “restricted” fetal development as a result of missing growth-promoting factors from NK cells.

Wei and other researchers also found that supplying pregnant mice with these NK cells could reverse damage done to fetal development as a result of deficient amounts of pleiotrophin and osteoglycin. As a clinical application, medical professionals could potentially transfer natural killer cells via intravenous infusion or the administration of a vaginal suppository, Wei says - no need for invasive procedures with pregnant women.

Going forward, Wei and his team have yet to determine whether pleiotrophin, osteoglycin, and other growth-promoting factors impact fetal development directly, via the maternal-fetal barrier, or indirectly, via support of placenta and blood vessel growth.

"This study provides an avenue for treating fetal growth restriction, recurrent spontaneous abortion with unknown reasons, and age-related fetal loss by improving the uterus microenvironment,” concluded co-senior author Zhigang Tian.

Sources: Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Cell Press

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 14, 2021
Immunology
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
OCT 14, 2021
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
  Antibodies are blood proteins with highly specialized functions: to recognize and eliminate bacteria, viruses, an ...
OCT 14, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
RSV Infections Can Modify Host Immune Gene Activity
OCT 14, 2021
RSV Infections Can Modify Host Immune Gene Activity
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are thought to be incredibly common; research has suggested that almost everyone is ev ...
OCT 19, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Mouse Fathers Passed Immunity Onto Offpsring After Infection
OCT 19, 2021
Mouse Fathers Passed Immunity Onto Offpsring After Infection
Parents pass their genes on to their children. But they can pass down other things too with epigenetic marks, chemical t ...
NOV 04, 2021
Cancer
Giving the Immune System a Kickstart to Improve Immunotherapy Efficacy
NOV 04, 2021
Giving the Immune System a Kickstart to Improve Immunotherapy Efficacy
Despite the incremental success immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) have attributed to the cancer treatment landscape rec ...
NOV 22, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
NOV 22, 2021
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
African lungfish are incredible animals that survive in freshwater or on land. Research on lungfish has taught us more a ...
JAN 18, 2022
Immunology
Omicron Can't Dodge T Cells
JAN 18, 2022
Omicron Can't Dodge T Cells
The Omicron variant was first reported in November 2021. More recently, a surge of infections worldwide has led to wides ...
Loading Comments...