TGFb1 suppresses the activation of distinct dNK subpopulations in preeclampsia

EBioMedicine. 2019 Jan:39:531-539. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2018.12.015. Epub 2018 Dec 19.


Background: Decidual natural killer (dNK) cells are the predominant lymphocytes accumulated at the maternal-fetal interface. Regulatory mechanism of dNK cells in preeclampsia, a gestational complication characterized by high blood pressure and increased proteinuria occurring after 20 weeks pregnancy, is not completely understood.

Methods: Multi-parameter flow cytometry is applied to investigate the phenotype and function of dNK cells freshly isolated from decidual samples or conditionally cultured by TGFb stimulation.

Findings: In preeclampsia, we documented elevated numbers of CD56+ CD3- dNK cells in close proximity to Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells within the decidua. In vitro experiments using dNK cells from early gestation showed that dNK activation (IFNG, IL-8 and CD107a) can be downregulated by Treg cells. The expression of these markers by dNK cells was significantly lower in preeclampsia. We also observed a positive correlation between the expression of dNK activation receptors (NKp30 and NKG2D) and the expression of IFNG in specific dNK subsets. TGFb levels are increased in the decidua of preeclamptic pregnancies. We analyzed co-expression of activation (IFNG/IL-8/CD107a) and angiogenic (VEGF) markers in dNK cells. TGFb treatment reduced while blockade of TGFb increased co-expression of these markers.

Interpretation: Our findings suggest that elevated decidual TGFb1 supresses the activation of specific subsets of dNK which in turn contributes to the uteroplacental pathology associated with the onset of preeclampsia.

Keywords: IFN-gamma; Preeclampsia; TGF-beta; Treg cells; dNK cells.

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / chemistry
  • Decidua / immunology*
  • Decidua / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / metabolism*


  • CXCL8 protein, human
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • IFNG protein, human
  • Interleukin-8
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • TGFB1 protein, human
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1
  • Interferon-gamma