Background: Nectins are cell adhesion molecules that play a pivotal role in adherens junctions and tight junctions. Our previous study using whole-genome oligonucleotide microarrays revealed that nectin-4 was upregulated in pre-eclamptic placentas. We investigated the role of nectin-4 in the etiology of pre-eclampsia. Methods: We investigated the expression of nectin-4 using real-time RT-PCR, western blot and immunostaining. Additionally, we performed matrigel invasion assay and cytotoxicity assay using cells overexpressing the nectin-4. Results: NECTIN4 transcripts were elevated in pre-eclamptic placentas relative to uncomplicated pregnancies. Nectin-4 protein levels in pre-eclamptic placentas were higher on a semi-quantitative western blot. Nectin-4 was localized at the apical cell membrane in syncytiotrophoblast cells and not at the adherens junctions. Nectin-4 was also detected in cytotrophoblasts and a subset of cells in the decidua. Nectin-4 overexpressing trophoblast cells migrated normally in the matrix. However, Natural killer (NK) cells showed a strong cytotoxic effect against nectin-4 overexpressing trophoblast cells. No causative genetic variation was evident in the NECTIN4 gene from a pre-eclamptic placenta. Conclusions: There are as yet unknown factors that induce nectin-4 overexpression in trophoblast cells that may contribute to abnormal placentation via an aberrant immune response and the onset of a pre-eclamptic pregnancy.
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