Natural killer (NK) cells are a sub-type of white blood cells, which are crucial in our immune system. They play a key role in identifying and fighting foreign bodies, thereby preventing a woman’s body from falling prey to various diseases during pregnancy. However, elevated natural killer cells in pregnancy have been associated with unsuccessful pregnancy and recurrent miscarriages. Clinics now offer tests to check the activity and number of active NK cells at the time of pregnancy.
Natural killer cells are lymphocytes that quickly act in response to various pathological challenges. They play a crucial role in destroying virally infected cells and controlling tumour cells. Apart from fighting diseases, specialised NK cells found in placenta also play an essential role in establishing and maintaining pregnancy. These cells also help in providing blood to the growing foetus for its proper development and to protect it against infections and foreign bodies. Natural killer cells can kill infected cells without any prior activation, and that is why they are called natural killer cells.
NK cells are of two types:
These immune cells are already present in the human uterus before the start of pregnancy. Their numbers significantly expand during the first trimester of pregnancy owing to increased progesterone levels and subsequently reduce as the pregnancy progresses. These innate immune cells shelter the embryo from severe infections and ensure its proper development.
These cells flow in the bloodstream and safeguard the body against different viruses and malignancies.
The function of NK cells in pregnancy is not clearly established to date. But some key points concerning the role of NK cells in pregnancy are:
High-stress levels or auto-immune disease can impact the NK cells activity. NK cells are disposed to enhance vigorously owing to an overactive immune system. In instances of some inflammation in the endometrial lining, pelvic cavity, or fallopian tubes, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, the immune system may react by sending NK cells moving in the bloodstream to attack and destroy the infected cells causing the problem. In such a scenario, the uterine NK cells, guarding the embryo, withdraw to allow the incoming peripheral NK cells to do their job. At times these cells tend to perceive the embryo as a foreign body thereby attacking and killing it, which leads to a miscarriage.
Natural killer cells are often linked to miscarriage, which is not completely wrong. An overabundance of NK cells in the bloodstream can result in a miscarriage. The NK cells mistakenly start seeing the embryo as a foreign organism thus attacking and damaging it. Excessive production of NK cells can also negatively impact embryo implantation in the uterus, causing infertility in women.
Many couples wish to know what stops natural killer cells in pregnancy. You will be happy to know that natural killer cells can be controlled in pregnancy. Few ways to balance high NK cells to have a successful pregnancy are as follows:
Nature killer cells may be a possible cause of unexplained infertility. The probability certainly increases in case a woman is prone to inflammatory conditions of the pelvic cavity or PCOS. Screening fertility patients, particularly, those who have undergone recurrent miscarriages for NK cells, can help in producing important results and finding out viable treatments for successful pregnancy in future.
Also Read: Epithelial Cells in Urine During Pregnancy
This post was last modified on December 2, 2020 9:27 am