Human chorionic gonadotropin-mediated modulation of pregnancy-compatible peripheral blood natural killer cells in frozen embryo transfer cycles

Warren J. Huber, May Tal Sauerbrun-Cutler, Paula M. Krueger, Geralyn Lambert-Messerlian, Surendra Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem: To evaluate pregnancy-compatible phenotypic and functional changes in peripheral blood natural killer (pNK) cells during frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles. Method of study: Peripheral blood was collected from patients undergoing frozen embryo transfer cycles at three separate time points in the cycle. pNK cell phenotype was analyzed by flow cytometry. Impact of pregnancy status on pNK cell cytotoxicity was characterized by two methods: (1) a three-dimensional endovascular tube formation approach and (2) a NK cell-specific K562 cell kill assay. Results: A total of 35 patients were enrolled, 15 with clinical pregnancies and 20 with negative serum β-hCG levels. Overall percentage of CD45+CD3CD56+ pNK cell did not change during the FET cycle. Pregnancy resulted in an increase in CD45+CD3CD56+ pNK cell population on the day of serum β-hCG. pNK cells from non-pregnant patients caused significant tube disruption when compared to pregnant patients. Addition of serum from pregnant women reduced the tube disruption by pNK cells from non-pregnant patients. pNK cells from pregnant patients showed significantly lower cytotoxicity toward K562 cells in serum-free conditions. The addition of pregnancy serum decreased non-pregnant pNK cell cytotoxicity. Pregnancy status had no impact on VEGF-A and VEGF-C serum levels. Recombinant hCG added to non-pregnant serum resulted in a significant reduction in non-pregnant pNK cell-mediated K562 cell kill. Conclusion: There was no difference in pNK cell populations based on timing of the FET cycle. However, pregnancy increased the percentage of CD45+CD3CD56+ pNK cells. Additionally, pNK cells from pregnant women have reduced cytotoxicity and this is possibly mediated by hCG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13324
JournalAmerican Journal of Reproductive Immunology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • frozen embryo transfer
  • human chorionic gonadotropin
  • human umbilical vascular endothelial cells
  • in vitro fertilization
  • peripheral blood natural killer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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