Elevated levels and increased aggressiveness of natural killer cells (NK cells) have been shown in a number of studies to increase the incidence of miscarriage and may be the cause of some cases of unexplained infertility. In many aspects of health - such as cancer prevention and treatment - having a good number of aggressive NK cells is thought to be very advantageous. NK cells are very protective but in some women their vigilance may be extreme to the detriment of fertility.
Abundant NK cells indicate a very aggressive immune system that likes to attack foreign viruses, cancer cells and other unwanted intruders; NK cells are prized for their ability to protect and defend our bodies. Unfortunately over zealous NK cells can attack early pregnancy too.
Previous studies have shown that high NK cells are associated with pregnancy loss and IVF failure. One study (1) sought to discover the mechanism behind this effect and evaluated whether having an increased level of these immune system cells was tied to developing impaired blood flow to the uterus: a known cause of pregnancy failure.
Twenty-one pregnant women (between 5 and 7 weeks gestation) with a history of recurrent pregnancy loss had their peripheral blood NK
cell (CD3-/56+) fractions measured. Concurrently color-pulsed Doppler ultra-sound was used to evaluate the degree of blood flow (resistive index RI) in the uterine radial artery. A control group of similar women had the same measurements taken. The researchers concluded that:
"Increased peripheral blood NK cells can evoke decreased
uterine blood ﬂow by their pro-inﬂammatory action on micro vascular structure such as uterine radial artery."
"This can be a one causative mechanism of inducing spontaneous by increased NK cells. But, larger scaled study is needed for clarify our results."
Your fertility doctor can easily test your circulating levels of natural killer cells if you would like to explore this line of thought. A reproductive immunologist is perhaps the best person to do this kind of test as they are very familiar with testing both uterine blood flow dynamics and NK cells. They are also proficient at treating problems with these aspects of reproductive wellness in women with a history of recurrent loss.
1. Fertility and Sterility Vol. 96, Issue 3. 2011 Supplement, O-320 Wednesday, October 19, 2011 04:30 PM
RESISTANCE OF UTERINE RADIAL ARTERY BLOOD FLOW IS POSITIVELY CORRELATED WITH PERIPHERAL BLOOD NK
CELL FRACTION IN PATIENTS WITH UNEXPLAINED RECURRENT SPONTANEOUS ABORTION. H. S. Koo, C. Park, J. H. Yoo,
H. Cha, I. S. Kang, K. M. Yang. Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Cheil General Hospital and Women’s Healthcare Center, Kwandong University College of Medicine, Seoul, Jung-gu, Korea.