Vascular remodeling within the uterus immediately before and during early pregnancy increases blood flow in the fetus and prevents the development of gestational hypertension. Tissue-resident natural killer (trNK) cells secrete pro-angiogenic growth factors but are insufficient for uterine artery (UtA) remodeling in the absence of conventional natural killer (cNK) cells. Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9) is activated in acidic environments to promote UtA remodeling. We have previously shown that ATPase a2V plays a role in regulating the function of cNK cells during pregnancy. We studied the effect of a2V deletion on uterine cNK cell populations and pregnancy outcomes in VavCrea2Vfl/fl mice, where a2V is conditionally deleted in hematopoietic stem cells. Conventional NKcells were reduced but trNK cells were retained in implantation sites at gestational day 9.5, and UtA remodeling was inhibited despite no differences in concentrations of pro-angiogenic growth factors. The ratio of pro-MMP9 to total was significantly elevated in VavCrea2Vfl/fl mice, and MMP9 activity was significantly reduced. The pH of implantation sites was significantly elevated in VavCrea2Vfl/fl mice. We concluded that the role of cNK cells in the uterus is to acidify the extracellular matrix (ECM) using a2V, which activates MMP9 to degrade the ECM, release bound pro-angiogenic growth factors, and contribute to UtA remodeling. Our results are significant for the understanding of the development of gestational hypertension.
Conventional natural killer cells use the vacuolar ATP-ase a2V to acidify the ECM during pregnancy, which activates MMP9 to release proangiogenic growth factors and stimulates uterine artery remodeling.