Natural killer (NK) cells are present in large populations at the maternal-fetal interface during early pregnancy. However, the role of NK cells in fetal growth is unclear. Here, we have identified a CD49a+Eomes+ subset of NK cells that secreted growth-promoting factors (GPFs), including pleiotrophin and osteoglycin, in both humans and mice. The crosstalk between HLA-G and ILT2 served as a stimulus for GPF-secreting function of this NK cell subset. Decreases in this GPF-secreting NK cell subset impaired fetal development, resulting in fetal growth restriction. The transcription factor Nfil3, but not T-bet, affected the function and the number of this decidual NK cell subset. Adoptive transfer of induced CD49a+Eomes+ NK cells reversed impaired fetal growth and rebuilt an appropriate local microenvironment. These findings reveal properties of NK cells in promoting fetal growth. In addition, this research proposes approaches for therapeutic administration of NK cells in order to reverse restricted nourishments within the uterine microenvironment during early pregnancy.
Maternal nourishment of the fetus at early stage has remained undefined. Fu et al. identify CD49a+Eomes+ trNK cells in the uterus that secrete growth-promoting factors enhancing fetal growth during critical early stages of fetal development.