Endometriosis is a benign gynaecological disease. Abundant bulk of evidence suggests that patients with endometriosis have an immunity dysfunction that enables ectopic endometrial cells to implant and proliferate. Previous studies show that natural killer cells have a pivotal role in the immune control of endometriosis.
This is a prospective laboratory study conducted in a tertiary-care university hospital between January 2011 and April 2013. We investigated non-pregnant, younger than 42-year-old patients (n= 202) during surgery for benign gynaecological conditions. After complete surgical exploration of the abdominopelvic cavity, 121 women with histologically proven endometriosis and 81 endometriosis-free controls women were enrolled. Patients with endometriosis were classified according to a surgical classification in three different types of endometriosis: superficial peritoneal endometriosis (SUP), ovarian endometrioma (OMA) and deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE). Peritoneal fluid samples were obtained from all study participants during the surgery in order to detect soluble NKG2D ligands (MICA, MICB and ULBP-2). When samples with undetectable peritoneal fluid levels of MICA, MICB and ULBP-2 were excluded, MICA ratio levels were significantly higher in endometriosis patients than in controls (median, 1.1 pg/mg; range, 0.1-143.5 versus median, 0.6 pg/mg; range, 0.1-3.5; p=0.003). In a similar manner peritoneal fluid MICB levels were also increased in endometriosis-affected patients compared with disease-free women (median, 4.6 pg/mg; range, 1.2-4702 versus median, 3.4 pg/mg; range, 0.7-20.1; p=0.001). According to the surgical classification, peritoneal fluid soluble MICA, MICB and ULBP-2 ratio levels were significantly increased in DIE as compared to controls (p=0.015, p=0.003 and p=0.045 respectively). MICA ratio levels also correlated with dysmenorrhea (r=0.232; p=0.029), total rAFS score (r=0.221; p=0.031) and adhesions rAFS score (r=0.221; p=0.031).
We demonstrate a significant increase of peritoneal fluid NKG2D ligands in women with endometriosis especially in those cases presenting DIE. This study suggests that NKG2D ligands shedding is a novel pathway in endometriosis complex pathogenesis that impairs NK cell function.