The role of natural killer cells and inflammatory mediators in preeclamptic pregnancies

University dissertation from Stockholm : Wenner-Grens institut för experimentell biologi

Abstract: The maternal immune system must be able to adjust during pregnancy and accept the foetus that expresses paternal antigens. These changes are found both in placenta and circulation, including a mild inflammatory response. NK cells are abundant during the early part of pregnancy in placenta and are thought to be important for placental development. During preeclampsia the placenta is poorly developed, together with an escalated pro-inflammatory profile noticed in both placenta and circulation. We wanted to study NK cells in placenta and circulation from preeclamptic cases as well as levels of cytokines. HMGB1, an alarmin involved in inflammation, was also measured in preeclamptic placentae.When studying preeclamptic placentae in third trimester we found higher numbers of NK cells as well as a higher expression of CD94+ NK cells. We also found slightly elevated levels of HMGB1 together with significantly lower expression of IL-12 in preeclamptic placentae. Further, the NK cell activating cytokines IL-12/IL-23p40 and IL-15 in sera from preeclamptic women were increased compared to healthy pregnancies. The elevated levels of NK cell activating IL-12/IL-23p40 and IL-15 found in preeclamptic sera, made us investigate the circulating NK cells in preeclampsia. However, no differences were seen between healthy and preeclamptic pregnancies.The main immunological alterations in third trimester preeclamptic pregnancies with regard to NK cells were found in placenta. Altered maternal cytokine levels in placenta could influence decidual NK cells in preeclampsia, noticed by their higher numbers and altered receptor expression. If these alterations also exist during early pregnancy it could result in a poorly developed and dysfunctional placenta.