Evidence for participation of uterine natural killer cells in the mechanisms responsible for spontaneous preterm labor and delivery

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Mar;200(3):308.e1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2008.10.043. Epub 2008 Dec 27.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine in a mouse model whether uterine natural killer (uNK) cell cytotoxic activation induces infection/inflammation-associated preterm labor and delivery.

Study design: Wild type or interleukin (IL)-10(-/-) mice were injected intraperitoneally with lipopolysaccharide on gestational day 14. Mice were either killed for collection of uteroplacental tissue, spleen, and serum or allowed to deliver. Uteroplacental tissue was used for histology and characterization of uNK cells.

Results: Low-dose lipopolysaccharide treatment triggered preterm labor and delivery in IL-10(-/-), but not wild type mice, in a manner independent of progesterone levels. Preterm labor and delivery in IL-10(-/-) mice was associated with an increased number and placental infiltration of cytotoxic uNK cells and placental cell death. Depletion of NK cells or tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha neutralization in these mice restored term delivery. Furthermore, TNF-alpha neutralization prevented uNK cell infiltration and placental cell apoptosis.

Conclusion: The uNK cell-TNF-alpha-IL-10 axis plays an important role in the genesis of infection/inflammation-induced preterm labor/delivery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / immunology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Interleukin-10 / genetics
  • Interleukin-10 / pharmacology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / drug therapy
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / immunology*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / prevention & control
  • Placenta / cytology
  • Placenta / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology
  • Uterus / cytology
  • Uterus / immunology*


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-10