Differential microRNA expression between decidual and peripheral blood natural killer cells in early pregnancy

C. Carlino, M. R. Rippo, R. Lazzarini, V. Monsurrò, S. Morrone, S. Angelini, E. Trotta, H. Stabile, C. Bastianelli, M. C. Albertini, F. Olivieri, A. Procopio, A. Santoni, A. Gismondi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


STUDY QUESTION: Have decidual natural killer (dNK) cells a different microRNA (miRNA or miR) expression pattern compared to NK cells circulating in the peripheral blood (pb) of healthy pregnant women in the first trimester of gestation? SUMMARY ANSWER: dNK cells have a unique miRNA profile, showing exclusive expression of a set of miRNAs and significant up- or down-regulation of most of the miRNAs shared with pbNK cells. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: dNK cells differ from pbNK cells both phenotypically and functionally, and their origin is still debated. Many studies have indicated that miRNAs regulate several important aspects of NK cell biology, such as development, activation and effector functions. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Decidua basalis and peripheral blood specimens were collected from women (n = 7) undergoing voluntary termination of gestation in the first trimester of pregnancy. dNK and pbNK cells were then highly purified by cell sorting. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: miRNAs expression was analysed by quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR)-based arrays using RNA purified from freshly isolated and highly purified pbNK and dNK cells. Results from arrays were validated by qRT-PCR assays. The bioinformatics tool ingenuity pathway analysis (IPA) was applied to determine the cellular network targeted by validated miRNAs and the correlated biological functions. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Herein, we identified the most differentially expressed miRNAs in NK cells isolated from peripheral blood and uterine decidua of pregnant women. We found that 36 miRNAs were expressed only in dNK cells and two miRNAs only in pbNK cells. Moreover, 48 miRNAs were commonly expressed by both NK cell preparations although at different levels: 28 were upregulated in dNK cells, while 15 were downregulated compared to pbNK cells. Validation of a selected set (n = 11) of these miRNAs confirmed the differential expression of nine miRNAs: miR-10b and miR-214 expressed only in dNK cells and miR-200a-3p expressed only in pbNK cells; miR-130b-3p, miR-125a-5p, miR-212-3p and miR-454 were upregulated while miR-210-3p and miR-132 were downregulated in dNK cells compared to pbNK cells. IPA network analysis identified a single network connecting all the miRNAs as well as their significant involvement in several classes of functions: 'Organismal injury, Reproductive system disease, Inflammatory disease' and 'Cellular development'. These miRNAs target molecules such as argonaute 2, tumour protein p53, insulin and other genes that belong to the same network and significantly influence cell differentiation and pregnancy. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: In the present study, the cellular network and biological functions modulated by miRNAs differentially expressed in dNK and pbNK cells were identified by IPA considering only molecules and relationships that were with confidence 'experimentally observed' in leucocytes. The decidual and pbNK cells that were analysed here are a heterogeneous population and further study will help to disentangle whether there are differences in miRNA production by the different subsets of NK cells. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This is the first study describing a different miRNA expression profile in dNK cells compared to matched pbNK cells during the first trimester of pregnancy. Our findings improved the body of knowledge on dNK cell biology and strongly suggest further investigation into the roles of miRNAs that are differentially expressed in human dNK compared to pbNK cells. Our results suggest that specific miRNAs can modulate dNK cell origin and functions, highlighting a potential role of this miRNA signature in human development and diseases. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was supported by grants from the Istituto Pasteur, Fondazione Cenci Bolognetti, the European NoE EMBIC within FP6 (Contract number LSHN-CT-2004-512040), Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, and Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca (Ricerche Universitarie), and from Università Politecnica delle Marche. There are no conflicts of interest to declare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2184-2195
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Decidua
  • Decidual natural killer cells
  • Ingenuity pathway analysis
  • MicroRNA
  • MiRNA profiling
  • Peripheral blood natural killer cells
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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