VOLUME 117, ISSUE 6, P1107-1120
Sarah A. Robertson, Ph.D., Lachlan M. Moldenhauer, Ph.D., Ella S. Green, Ph.D., Alison S. Care, Ph.D., M. Louise Hull, M.B.Ch.B., Ph.D.
Immune cells are essential for endometrial receptivity to embryo implantation and early placental development. They exert tissue-remodeling and immune regulatory roles—acting to promote epithelial attachment competence, regulate the differentiation of decidual cells, remodel the uterine vasculature, control and resolve inflammatory activation, and suppress destructive immunity to paternally inherited alloantigens. From a biological perspective, the endometrial immune response exerts a form of “quality control”—it promotes implantation success when conditions are favorable but constrains receptivity when physiological circumstances are not ideal. Women with recurrent implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage may exhibit altered numbers or disturbed function of certain uterine immune cell populations—most notably uterine natural killer cells and regulatory T cells. Preclinical and animal studies indicate that deficiencies or aberrant activation states in these cells can be causal in the pathophysiological mechanisms of infertility. Immune cells are, therefore, targets for diagnostic evaluation and therapeutic intervention. However, current diagnostic tests are overly simplistic and have limited clinical utility. To be more informative, they need to account for the full complexity and reflect the range of perturbations that can occur in uterine immune cell phenotypes and networks. Moreover, safe and effective interventions to modulate these cells are in their infancy, and personalized approaches matched to specific diagnostic criteria will be needed. Here we summarize current biological understanding and identify knowledge gaps to be resolved before the promise of therapies to target the uterine immune response can be fully realized.