Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease affecting women during their reproductive years. An abnormal immune function and, in particular, a decreased natural killer (NK) cell activity have been found in endometriosis, suggesting a role of the immune system in the pathophysiology of the disease. We have recently evidenced a significant inverse relationship between 17-ß-estradiol plasma levels and NK cytotoxicity in endometriosis patients. In this study we have investigated the combined role of 17-ß-estradiol (E2) and prolactin (PRL) in the regulation of NK cell activity during the progression of endometriosis, by evaluating the correlation among E2, PRL., and other immunomodulating neurohormones on both the cytotoxic activity and the number of NK cells in women at different stages of endometriosis. The early stages (I/II) of endometriosis are characterized by increased plasma levels of either E2 or PRL without significant alterations of NK cell activity in comparison with healthy subjects. The progression to advanced stages (III/IV) of the disease is associated with a further increase of E2 levels, a decrease of PRL plasma concentrations (with an increase of E2/PRL ratio), and an impairment of NK cytotoxicity. The plasma levels of both E2 and PRL and the E2/PRL ratio are significantly correlated with the values of NK cytotoxicity in advanced stages of endometriosis. Either the absolute number or the relative percentage of CD16+ or CD56+ peripheral lymphocytes are not significantly different between patients at either stages I/II or III/IV and healthy controls. Plasma levels of progesterone (P) and luteinizing hormone (LH), are not significantly changed in different stages of endometriosis with respect to healthy controls. The significant decrease of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) plasma levels found in either stages I/II or III/IV endometriosis patients is not correlated with the NK cell activity. In conclusion, at advanced stages of endometriosis the impairment of NK cell activity occurs with increased E2, and decreased PRL plasma levels. Additional studies are required to determine whether the E2/PRL ratio represents a possible biochemical marker of endometriosis.
- NK cell activity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism