Increased prevalence of peripheral blood granulysin-producing cytotoxic T lymphocytes in preeclampsia

Attila Molvarec, Arihiro Shiozaki, Mika Ito, Gergely Toldi, Balázs Stenczer, András Szarka, Akitoshi Nakashima, Barna Vásárhelyi, János Rigó, Shigeru Saito

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Preeclampsia (PE) is a severe complication of pregnancy characterized by an excessive maternal systemic inflammatory response with activation of both the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system. Granulysin is a cytolytic and pro-inflammatory molecule expressed by activated human cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells. Recent data show that serum granulysin levels are elevated in preeclampsia. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the proportion of peripheral blood cytotoxic T lymphocytes and NK cells that express intracellular granulysin is altered in PE. Twenty-two preeclamptic patients and 29 healthy pregnant women were involved in this case-control study. Intracellular granulysin expression of lymphocytes was determined with flow cytometric examination. In healthy pregnant women, the majority of NK cells and a small fraction of cytotoxic T cells expressed granulysin in their cytoplasma (median (25-75 percentile): 53.5 (45.6-68.0)% and 13.8 (8.5-23.1)%, respectively). In PE, the percentage of granulysin-positive cytotoxic T lymphocytes was markedly increased, while the proportion of granulysin-producing NK cells was unchanged as compared to healthy pregnant women (for cytotoxic T cells: 34.1 (19.3-45.6)%, p<0.001; for NK cells: 57.2 (42.9-74.9)%, p>0.05). Maternal age of healthy pregnant women showed a significant inverse correlation with the frequency of granulysin-expressing NK cells (Spearman R=. -0.44, p<0.05), while their BMI correlated positively with the proportions of granulysin-positive cytotoxic T cells and NK cells (Spearman R=. 0.43, p<0.05 for both). In conclusion, the majority of circulating NK cells but only a small population of cytotoxic T cells shows intracellular granulysin expression in normal pregnancy. In preeclampsia, the proportion of granulysin-producing cytotoxic T cells in the peripheral blood is markedly increased, which might contribute to the development of the pro-inflammatory Th1-type immune responses characteristics of the maternal syndrome of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-63
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Reproductive Immunology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2011


  • Flow cytometry
  • Granulysin
  • Inflammation
  • Lymphocyte
  • Preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology

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