Collaborative research between scientists at the Babraham Institute and Centre for Trophoblast Research in Cambridge is illuminating the role that pregnancy-related NK cells play in moderating the biochemical interactions at the boundary between maternal tissues and the developing foetus.
Their findings, reported in November’s Journal of Immunology, reveal that uterine NK cells are ‘armed’ with specific receptors, enabling interaction with other molecules to ensure that the placenta develops normally and the pregnancy is successful.
Natural Killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell, defend us from tumours, viruses and other potential dangers. They sense their environment through a repertoire of surface proteins (receptors), which detect other immune molecules, those belonging to the Major Histocompatability Complex (MHC). This allows NK cells to distinguish ‘friend from foe’ and attack cells that have either lost self-MHC molecules or express a different set of MHC molecules.
A specialised set of NK cells accumulates in the uterus during each menstrual cycle and, if a fertilised embryo implants, their numbers rapidly swell at the maternal-foetal boundary. The role of these cells in pregnancy is enigmatic. Instead of the killing function normally associated with NK cells, in the uterus NK cells work in a different way; they are thought to make factors known as cytokines, which help to modify the maternal arteries supplying the developing foetus with the necessary blood, nutrients and oxygen. These dramatic tissue changes must be orchestrated in the context of the genetic diversity between the maternal immune cells and the paternal genes expressed on the developing placenta. Hostile interactions between maternal uterine NK cells and paternal MHC molecules are associated with an increased likelihood of abnormal pregnancies and recurrent miscarriage. However, the receptors enabling uterine NK cells to interact with MHC are only recently being uncovered. It is also unclear how maternal immune cells recognise paternal molecules in the unique micro-environment of the developing placenta, preventing an attack being mounted.
The Cambridge collaborators have identified the repertoire of activating and inhibitory receptors present on uterine NK cells and demonstrated that they are different from blood NK cells in terms of their adhesion, activation and MHC recognition capabilities.
“Not enough is known about these unique cells and their important role in pregnancy,” said Hakim Yadi, lead author and PhD student at the Babraham Institute. “This unprecedented and in-depth analysis of uterine killer cells is the necessary groundwork upon which we can build new knowledge. This will aid us in determining the factors that regulate reproductive success”.
The team’s analysis also revealed that uterine NK cells can be separated in two previously unappreciated subsets, opening up new questions related to their origin and functions, insights that will further understanding of the unique role of immune cells at the maternal-foetal interface.
This research was supported by the BBSRC, through a Babraham Institute Synergy Award to Drs. Francesco Colucci and Myriam Hemberger, an MRC Project Grant to Francesco Colucci and by the recently established Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge.
Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH
Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences