The up side of decidual natural killer cells: new developments in immunology of pregnancy

Immunology. 2014 Apr;141(4):490-7. doi: 10.1111/imm.12218.


Early phases of human pregnancy are associated with the accumulation of a unique subset of natural killer (NK) cells in the maternal decidua. Decidual NK (dNK) cells that are devoid of cytotoxicity play a pivotal role in successful pregnancy. By secreting large amounts of cytokines/chemokines and angiogenic factors, dNK cells participate in all steps of placentation including trophoblast invasion into the maternal endometrium and vascular remodelling. In this review, we summarize some of dNK cell features and discuss more recent exciting data that challenge the conventional view of these cells. Our new data demonstrate that dNK cells undergo fine tuning or even subvert their classical inhibitory machinery and turn into a real defence force in order to prevent the spread of viruses to fetal tissue. Today it is not clear how these phenotypic and functional adaptations impact cellular cross-talk at the fetal-maternal interface and tissue homeostasis. Ultimately, precise understanding of the molecular mechanisms that govern dNK cell plasticity during congenital human cytomegalovirus infection should lead to the design of more robust strategies to reverse immune escape during viral infection and cancer.

Keywords: cytomegalovirus; decidua; natural killer cells; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / transmission
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • Decidua / immunology*
  • Decidua / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Placentation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / virology