Evidence for immune cell involvement in decidual spiral arteriole remodeling in early human pregnancy

Am J Pathol. 2009 May;174(5):1959-71. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.080995. Epub 2009 Apr 6.


Decidual artery remodeling is essential for a healthy pregnancy. This process involves loss of vascular smooth muscle cells and endothelium, which are replaced by endovascular trophoblasts (vEVTs) embedded in fibrinoid. Remodeling is impaired during pre-eclampsia, a disease of pregnancy that results in maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity. Early vascular changes occur in the absence of vEVTs, suggesting that another cell type is involved; evidence from animal models indicates that decidual leukocytes play a role. We hypothesized that leukocytes participate in remodeling through the triggering of apoptosis or extracellular matrix degradation. Decidua basalis samples (8 to 12 weeks gestation) were examined by immunohistochemistry to elucidate associations between leukocytes, vEVTs, and key remodeling events. Trophoblast-independent and -dependent phases of remodeling were identified. Based on a combination of morphological attributes, vessel profiles were classified into a putative temporal series of four stages. In early stages of remodeling, vascular smooth muscle cells showed dramatic disruption and disorganization before vEVT presence. Leukocytes (identified as uterine natural killer cells and macrophages) were apparent infiltrating vascular smooth muscle cells layers and were matrix metalloproteinase-7 and -9 immunopositive. A proportion of vascular smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells were terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling positive, suggesting remodeling involves apoptosis. We thus confirm that vascular remodeling occurs in distinct trophoblast-independent and -dependent stages and provide the first evidence of decidual leukocyte involvement in trophoblast-independent stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Arterioles / immunology*
  • Arterioles / pathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Decidua / blood supply
  • Decidua / immunology*
  • Decidua / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / enzymology
  • Extracellular Matrix / immunology
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Leukocytes / immunology*
  • Leukocytes / pathology
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 7 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / immunology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / pathology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / immunology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Trophoblasts / immunology*
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism


  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 7
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9