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I'm a PhD student at the University of Cambridge researching the early stages of pregnancy.


Natural Killer cells found in the uterus play an important role during placentation

Natural killer cells are best known for clearing viral infected and transformed cells. However, in recent years tissue resident natural killer cell populations have been identified which defy this classical paradigm. Often poorly cytolytic, they produce large amounts of cytokines upon stimulation. One such tissue resident population are the uterine Natural killer cells. During pregnancy, these cells interact directly with invading fetal derived placental cells to regulate the extent to which the placental cells invade. In this way, they orchestrate the remodelling of the uterine environment during pregnancy to fascilitate an adequate nutrient supply to the developing fetus. Uterine natural killer cells form a heterogenous population , much like their peripheral blood counterparts, and I am using mass cytometry to chart the topology of the uterine natural killer cell niche. We hope to identify functionally relevant subsets that will provide mechanistic insight into placentation and potentially become therapeutic targets for pregnancy disorders.


Maternal activating KIRs protect against human reproductive failure mediated by fetal HLA-C2.

Abstract: Many common disorders of pregnancy are attributed to insufficient invasion of the uterine lining by trophoblast, fetal cells that are the major cell type of the placenta. Interactions between fetal trophoblast and maternal uterine NK (uNK) cells--specifically interactions between HLA-C molecules expressed by the fetal trophoblast cells and killer Ig-like receptors (KIRs) on the maternal uNK cells--influence placentation in human pregnancy. Consistent with this, pregnancies are at increased risk of preeclampsia in mothers homozygous for KIR haplotype A (KIR AA). In this study, we have demonstrated that trophoblast expresses both paternally and maternally inherited HLA-C surface proteins and that maternal KIR AA frequencies are increased in affected pregnancies only when the fetus has more group 2 HLA-C genes (C2) than the mother. These data raise the possibility that there is a deleterious allogeneic effect stemming from paternal C2. We found that this effect also occurred in other pregnancy disorders (fetal growth restriction and recurrent miscarriage), indicating a role early in gestation for these receptor/ligand pairs in the pathogenesis of reproductive failure. Notably, pregnancy disorders were less frequent in mothers that possessed the telomeric end of the KIR B haplotype, which contains activating KIR2DS1. In addition, uNK cells expressed KIR2DS1, which bound specifically to C2+ trophoblast cells. These findings highlight the complexity and central importance of specific combinations of activating KIR and HLA-C in maternal-fetal immune interactions that determine reproductive success.

Pub.: 26 Oct '10, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Tissue-Specific Education of Decidual NK Cells.

Abstract: During human pregnancy, fetal trophoblast cells invade the decidua and remodel maternal spiral arteries to establish adequate nutrition during gestation. Tissue NK cells in the decidua (dNK) express inhibitory NK receptors (iNKR) that recognize allogeneic HLA-C molecules on trophoblast. Where this results in excessive dNK inhibition, the risk of pre-eclampsia or growth restriction is increased. However, the role of maternal, self-HLA-C in regulating dNK responsiveness is unknown. We investigated how the expression and function of five iNKR in dNK is influenced by maternal HLA-C. In dNK isolated from women who have HLA-C alleles that carry a C2 epitope, there is decreased expression frequency of the cognate receptor, KIR2DL1. In contrast, women with HLA-C alleles bearing a C1 epitope have increased frequency of the corresponding receptor, KIR2DL3. Maternal HLA-C had no significant effect on KIR2DL1 or KIR2DL3 in peripheral blood NK cells (pbNK). This resulted in a very different KIR repertoire for dNK capable of binding C1 or C2 epitopes compared with pbNK. We also show that, although maternal KIR2DL1 binding to C2 epitope educates dNK cells to acquire functional competence, the effects of other iNKR on dNK responsiveness are quite different from those in pbNK. This provides a basis for understanding how dNK responses to allogeneic trophoblast affect the outcome of pregnancy. Our findings suggest that the mechanisms that determine the repertoire of iNKR and the effect of self-MHC on NK education may differ in tissue NK cells compared with pbNK.

Pub.: 01 Sep '15, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Mapping the Fetomaternal Peripheral Immune System at Term Pregnancy.

Abstract: Preterm labor and infections are the leading causes of neonatal deaths worldwide. During pregnancy, immunological cross talk between the mother and her fetus is critical for the maintenance of pregnancy and the delivery of an immunocompetent neonate. A precise understanding of healthy fetomaternal immunity is the important first step to identifying dysregulated immune mechanisms driving adverse maternal or neonatal outcomes. This study combined single-cell mass cytometry of paired peripheral and umbilical cord blood samples from mothers and their neonates with a graphical approach developed for the visualization of high-dimensional data to provide a high-resolution reference map of the cellular composition and functional organization of the healthy fetal and maternal immune systems at birth. The approach enabled mapping of known phenotypical and functional characteristics of fetal immunity (including the functional hyperresponsiveness of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells and the global blunting of innate immune responses). It also allowed discovery of new properties that distinguish the fetal and maternal immune systems. For example, examination of paired samples revealed differences in endogenous signaling tone that are unique to a mother and her offspring, including increased ERK1/2, MAPK-activated protein kinase 2, rpS6, and CREB phosphorylation in fetal Tbet(+)CD4(+) T cells, CD8(+) T cells, B cells, and CD56(lo)CD16(+) NK cells and decreased ERK1/2, MAPK-activated protein kinase 2, and STAT1 phosphorylation in fetal intermediate and nonclassical monocytes. This highly interactive functional map of healthy fetomaternal immunity builds the core reference for a growing data repository that will allow inferring deviations from normal associated with adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes.

Pub.: 30 Oct '16, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Composition and dynamics of the uterine NK cell KIR repertoire in menstrual blood.

Abstract: Uterine natural killer (NK) cells are abundantly present in endometrium and decidua. Their function is governed by interactions between killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and cognate human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I ligands. These interactions have implications for reproductive success. Whereas most uterine NK cells are known to express KIRs, little information is available about KIR repertoire formation and stability over time. This is primarily due to inherent difficulties in gaining access to human uterine tissue. As endometrial immune cells are shed during menstruation, menstrual blood may serve as a source for studies of KIRs on uterine NK cells. Here, we performed a combined assessment of six inhibitory and activating KIRs on uterine NK cells from paired menstrual and peripheral blood. Menstrual blood contained a high frequency of uterine NK cells expressing KIRs. The uterine NK cell KIR repertoires were markedly different from those in peripheral blood NK cells, biased toward KIR2D-receptor expression, and formed independently of selection conferred by cognate HLA class I molecules. Moreover, uterine NKG2C(+)self-KIR(+) NK cell expansions were detected. Finally, the distinct KIR repertoires of uterine NK cells were stable over multiple menstrual cycles. Our results provide novel insight into KIR repertoire formation on human uterine NK cells.Mucosal Immunology advance online publication, 8 June 2016; doi:10.1038/mi.2016.50.

Pub.: 09 Jun '16, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Genetic and environmental determinants of human NK cell diversity revealed by mass cytometry.

Abstract: Natural killer (NK) cells play critical roles in immune defense and reproduction, yet remain the most poorly understood major lymphocyte population. Because their activation is controlled by a variety of combinatorially expressed activating and inhibitory receptors, NK cell diversity and function are closely linked. To provide an unprecedented understanding of NK cell repertoire diversity, we used mass cytometry to simultaneously analyze 37 parameters, including 28 NK cell receptors, on peripheral blood NK cells from 5 sets of monozygotic twins and 12 unrelated donors of defined human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) genotype. This analysis revealed a remarkable degree of NK cell diversity, with an estimated 6000 to 30,000 phenotypic populations within an individual and >100,000 phenotypes in the donor panel. Genetics largely determined inhibitory receptor expression, whereas activation receptor expression was heavily environmentally influenced. Therefore, NK cells may maintain self-tolerance through strictly regulated expression of inhibitory receptors while using adaptable expression patterns of activating and costimulatory receptors to respond to pathogens and tumors. These findings further suggest the possibility that discrete NK cell subpopulations could be harnessed for immunotherapeutic strategies in the settings of infection, reproduction, and transplantation.

Pub.: 25 Oct '13, Pinned: 04 Jul '17