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
MAR 31, 2020
Health & Medicine
MAR 31, 2020
20 Facts About the Placenta - A Lifeline Between a Mother and Her Baby
The placenta is the lifeline that connects the mother and her baby. It is a multi-functiona organ that is responsible fo ...
APR 02, 2020
Immunology
APR 02, 2020
Transforming T Cells into Powerful Memory Cells That Target Cancer
New cancer treatments are now based on harnessing the power of the human body’s own immune cells to get the job do ...
APR 16, 2020
Cancer
APR 16, 2020
The Unseen Barriers Surrounding Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world. With a poor five year prognosis and lack of effective tr ...
APR 15, 2020
Immunology
APR 15, 2020
Why More Men than Women Die from COVID-19
As of April 9th, over 60% of deaths from COVID-19 in New York state were men. Meanwhile, as of April 6, 82% of patients ...
APR 10, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
APR 10, 2020
Cancer Therapy Drug Reverses Kidney Damage
According to a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, a therapeutic previously used for cancer t ...
APR 11, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
APR 11, 2020
Promising Experimental Anti-Malarial Drug
At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, researchers discovered a fast-acting anti-malarial compound with promisi ...
Loading Comments...