Human uterine natural killer cells: a reappraisal

Mol Immunol. 2005 Feb;42(4):511-21. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2004.07.035.


The presence of granulated cells within the uterus of many species has been recognised for many years but only recently have these been recognised to be a type of NK cell. Various terms have been applied to the cells, including endometrial granulocyte, K cell and, in mouse and rat, granulated metrial gland cell. Although early studies are often based on histology and electron microscopy, these often include important information for current studies. In vitro studies of purified cells have focused particularly on cytotoxicity and cytokine production and roles in the control of trophoblast invasion and spiral artery remodelling in human pregnancy have been proposed. Evidence in mouse has implicated uNK cell production of IFN-gamma in vascular remodelling but evidence for such a role for human uNK cells remains to be established. Investigation of uNK cells in human pregnancy is hampered by the lack of availability of tissues from the first half of the second trimester of pregnancy when vascular remodelling occurs and also by possible differences between cells from different regions of decidua. The presence of similar cells in species with no trophoblast invasion into the uterus and epitheliochorial placentation raises the question of whether control of trophoblast invasion by human uNK cells is important in vivo and raises the possibility of another function which is conserved between species.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Trophoblasts / physiology*
  • Uterus / cytology
  • Uterus / immunology*
  • Uterus / physiology