Uterine NK cell development, migration and function

Angela Santoni, Claudia Carlino, Angela Gismondi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Uterine natural killer (uNK) cells represent the predominant lymphocytes in the uterus during early pregnancy and in the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle. They are CD56highCD16- and have low cytotoxicity, but constitutively secrete a number of cytokines, chemokines and angiogenic molecules. uNK cells differ from CD56high blood NK cells in several ways, including the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor repertoire and expression of some genes induced by hormone environment. uNK cells may arise by in-utero proliferation and differentiation of NK cell progenitors under the control of the sex steroid hormones and/or cytokines, such as interleukin-15, and/orbe recruited from CD56+ blood NK cells that would undergo tissue-specific differentiation in the uterine microenvironment. There is evidence showing that uNK cells display a different pattern of chemokine receptors and adhesion molecules, thus leading to a different migratory response. It has not yet been fully defined which uNK cell function(s) are critical for successful pregnancy. The close encirclement of spiral arteries by NK cells, together with their ability to produce angiogenic factors, suggests that they might influence mucosal vascularization. Their proximity to the extravillous trophoblast supports the idea that uNK cells could recognize these cells as fetal, and regulate their invasion during placentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-210
Number of pages9
JournalReproductive BioMedicine Online
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Integrin
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Pregnancy
  • Uterine NK cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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