The Importance of MHC-Independent Natural Killer Cell Receptors in the Immunoregulation of Murine Pregnancy
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Numerous leukocyte populations are essential for pregnancy success. Uterine natural killer (uNK) cells are chief amongst these leukocytes and represent a unique lineage with limited cytotoxicity but abundant angiokine production. They possess a distinct phenotype of activating and inhibitory receptors that recognize major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, such as the killer immunoglobulin like receptors (KIRs; mouse Ly49), and MHC-independent activating receptors, including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and natural cytotoxicity receptor 1 (NCR1). While the roles of MHC-dependent receptors are widely addressed in pregnancy, MHC-independent receptors are relatively unstudied. This thesis investigated the roles of MHC-independent receptors in promotion of mouse pregnancy and characterized early leukocyte interactions in the presence and absence of NCR1. It was hypothesized that loss of MHC-independent receptors impairs uNK cell development resulting in aberrations in leukocyte function and decidual vasculature. Implantation sites from Ahr-/- and Ncr1Gfp/Gfp mice were assessed using whole mount in situ immunohistochemistry (WM-IHC) and histochemical techniques. Leukocyte interactions identified during preliminary WM-IHC studies were confirmed as immune synapses. The novel identification of immune synapses in early mouse pregnancy compelled further examination of leukocyte conjugates in wildtype C57BL/6 and Ncr1Gfp/Gfp mice. In Ahr-/- and Ncr1Gfp/Gfp mice, receptor loss resulted in reduced uNK cell diameters, impaired decidual vasculature, and failures in spiral artery remodeling. Ahr-/- mice had severe fertility deficits whereas Ncr1Gfp/Gfp mice had increased fetal resorption indicating differing receptor requirements in pregnancy success. NCR1 loss primarily affected uNK cell maturation and function as identified by alterations in granule ultrastructure, lytic protein expression, and angiokine production. Leukocyte conjugates were frequent in early C57BL/6 decidua basalis and included uNK cells conjugating first with antigen presenting cells and then with T cells. Overall conjugate formation was reduced in the absence of NCR1, but specific uNK cell conjugations were unaffected by receptor loss. While KIR-MHC interactions are associated with numerous pregnancy complications in humans, the role of other uNK cell receptors are not well characterized. These results illustrate the importance of MHC-independent receptors in uNK cell activation during early pregnancy in mice and encourage further studies of pregnancy complications that may occur independently of maternal KIR-MHC contributions.