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Dr Selma Boulenouar

Research Interests

Pregnancy is the only natural situation in vertebrates where two genetically distinct organisms co-exist. It is the placenta that comes into direct contact with the maternal womb and her immune cells. Both humans and mice develop haemochorial placentation where trophoblast cells invade the uterus and physically interact with a unique and predominant population of immune cells known as uterine NK cells (uNK) at early stages of pregnancy.

Why doesn't the mother’s immune system attack the semi-allogeneic implant?

In the laboratory of Francesco Colucci, I use the mouse models to understand how uNK cells contribute to fetal and placental development and to dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying the interactions between the fetal placenta and the maternal uNK cells.


cytotoxicity ; trophoblast ; circulation ; adhesion molecules ; uterus ; natural killer receptors ; human studies ; granzymes/perforin/lysosomal ; cell development ; chemokines/monokines ; animal models ; traffic ; migration ; invasion ; differentiation ; NNK receptors ; natural killer cells ; interleukin ; cytokines ; pregnancy


  • reproductive immunology
  • cancer
  • transplantation

Key Publications

Zofia Madeja, Hakim Yadi, Richard Apps, Selma Boulenouar, Stephen J, Roper, Lucy Gardner, Ashley Moffett, Francesco Colucci, and Myriam Hemberger. From the Cover: Paternal MHC expression on mouse trophoblast affects uterine vascularization and fetal growth. PNAS 2011 108 (10) 4012–4017

Francesco Colucci, Selma Boulenouar, Jens Kieckbusch, Ashley Moffett. How does variability of immune system genes affect placentation? Placenta. 2011 Aug;32(8):539–45.

Boulenouar S, Weyn C, Van Noppen M, Moussa Ali M, Favre M, Delvenne PO, Bex F, Noël A, Englert Y, Fontaine V. Effects of HPV-16 E5, E6 and E7 proteins on survival, adhesion, migration and invasion of trophoblastic cells. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Mar;31(3):473-80.

Physical interaction of trophoblasts and uNK cells in the mouse implantation site. (A) Sagittal sections of E8.5 mouse implantation sites stained for pan-cytokeratin (red) as a trophoblast marker and DBA as a uNK cell marker (green). The ectoplacental cone (EPC) and direction of trophoblast invasion is indicated. chor. troph. = chorionic trophoblast. (B) Magnified area from A showing the close juxtaposition of trophoblast and uNK cells in the ectoplacental cone region. (C) Confocal microscopy analysis visualizes uNK cells in direct contact with trophoblast cells, demonstrating the physical possibility of receptor–ligand mediated interactions. (Scale bars, 200 μm in A, 100 μm in B; 50 μm in C.)