The establishment of the human placenta in early pregnancy is characterized by the presence of large numbers of natural killer (NK) cells within the maternal decidua in close proximity to the fetally-derived invading extravillous trophoblast which expresses at least two HLA class I molecules, HLA-G and HLA-C. These NK cells have an unusual phenotype, CD56bright CD16, distinguishing them from adult peripheral blood NK cells. They may control key events in trophoblast migration and therefore placentation. Human NK cells in peripheral blood express receptors for polymorphic HLA class I molecules. This family of receptors, known as killer cell inhibitory receptors (KIR), are expressed on overlapping subsets of NK cells to give an NK cell repertoire which differs between individuals. Using a panel of monoclonal antibodies to several members of the KIR family and analysis by flow cytometry, we have found that KIR are expressed by decidual NK cells. There is variation in both the percentage of cells expressing a particular receptor and the density of receptor expression between decidual NK cells from different individuals. Comparison of NK cells from decidua and peripheral blood of the same individual showed that NK cells from these two different locations express different repertoires of KIR. Receptors are present in individuals who do not possess the relevant class I ligand, raising the possibility that these NK receptors may be involved in recognition of the allogeneic fetus by the mother at the implantation site.