Immunity and Inflammation in the Uterus


Author’s address (for correspondence): Prof Martin Sheldon, Institute of Life Science, College of Medicine, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK. E-mail: i.m.sheldon@


Microbes often infect the uterus and particularly the endometrium of animals. Infections are most commonly associated with natural service, pregnancy and the post-partum period, leading to inflammation with the elaboration of cytokines, chemokines and prostaglandins. Clinical diseases such as metritis, endometritis and abortion are important causes of infertility. The adaptive immune response to infection has been characterized previously, so the present review aims to highlight the emerging role for innate immunity in the endometrium. The detection of microbes and the innate immune response depends on the detection of pathogen-associated molecular patterns by pattern recognition receptors. The main families of pattern recognition receptors are Toll-like receptors (TLRs), nucleotide oligomerization domain-like receptors, retinoic acid-inducible gene I-like receptors and C-type lectin receptors. These receptors are most often expressed by hematopoietic cells, but the epithelial and stromal cells of the endometrium also possess functional receptors. For example, endometrial cells express TLR4 for recognition of the lipopolysaccharide endotoxin of Gram-negative bacteria, leading to secretion of IL-6, IL-8 and prostaglandin E2. It is likely that the epithelial and stromal cells provide a first line of defence in the endometrium to alert hematopoietic cells to the presence of microbes within the uterus.