Decidual leucocyte populations in early to late gestation normal human pregnancy

J Reprod Immunol. 2009 Oct;82(1):24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jri.2009.08.001. Epub 2009 Sep 3.


Most research on human decidual leucocytes to date has focused on the predominant CD56+ uterine natural killer (uNK) cell population in early pregnancy. Few reports have documented decidual leucocyte populations after 13 weeks gestation and in late pregnancy. Placental bed (decidua basalis) and non-placental bed (decidua parietalis) biopsies from normal pregnancies were taken from women undergoing termination of pregnancy in the 1st and 2nd trimesters and following Caesarean section in the 3rd trimester. Immunohistochemistry was used to quantify the numbers of decidual cells expressing CD56, CD3, CD8, CD94, NKG2A and CD14 and double labelled CD161+CD3+ NKT-like cells. Although a significant reduction in CD56+ uNK cells was found in 3rd trimester samples compared with 1st and 2nd trimester decidua, a substantial residual CD56+ leucocyte population was identified in 3rd trimester decidua. Expression of the KIR CD94/NKG2A mirrored that of CD56 at all gestational ages, providing an explanation for the absence of cytotoxic responses at the fetal-maternal interface. There was no difference in leucocyte populations between decidua basalis and decidua parietalis. Double immunohistochemical labelling revealed small numbers of decidual CD3+CD56+ and CD8+CD56+ cells, which decreased in number at term, and CD161+CD3+ cells, which increased in number at term. No differences in leucocyte populations were detected between decidua parietalis and decidua basalis. In contrast to previous reports, a substantial residual CD56+ cell population was demonstrated in 3rd trimester decidua. Decidual cytotoxic T-lymphocytes did not alter in number during gestation, while in contrast CD14+ macrophages decreased at term, representing the smallest decidual population assessed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / biosynthesis
  • Cell Count
  • Decidua / cytology*
  • Decidua / immunology*
  • Decidua / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / pathology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Placental Circulation / immunology
  • Pregnancy
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / pathology
  • Time Factors


  • Antigens, CD