Maternal lymphocytes having a large and granulated morphology accumulate at healthy implantation sites in normal mice. Insight into the functions of these cells has come from a previous study of two independent lines of mice deficient in natural killer (NK) cells. In pregnant Tg epsilon 26 mice, vascular pathology was found that led to the major complications of either fetal death or intrauterine growth retardation. In pregnant p56lck null x IL-2R beta null mice, extensive distension of the decidua was observed that separated the placenta from the myometrium and appeared to be interstitial edema. To strengthen assignment of uterine large granulated lymphocytes to the NK cell lineage and to understand which aspects of NK cell biology may be important for a uterine-based, pregnancy-associated subset, mid-gestation implantation sites from a new series of mice having gene deletions which alter NK cells (IL-2R gamma null, Stat4 null, IL-12 p40 null, beta 7 integrin null and Muc-1 null) have been examined histologically. The findings support the assignment of pregnancy-associated large granulated cells of mice to the NK cell lineage and suggest that the primary functions of these tissue-based NK cells are to support normal development of the decidua and/or its vasculature using pathways that involve IL-12 mediated signal transduction.