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J Exp Med. 2008 Aug 4;205(8):1829-41. doi: 10.1084/jem.20072446. Epub 2008 Jul 7.

Continuous engagement of a self-specific activation receptor induces NK cell tolerance.

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  • 1Gastroenterology Division, Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cell tolerance mechanisms are incompletely understood. One possibility is that they possess self-specific activation receptors that result in hyporesponsiveness unless modulated by self-major histocompatability complex (MHC)-specific inhibitory receptors. As putative self-specific activation receptors have not been well characterized, we studied a transgenic C57BL/6 mouse that ubiquitously expresses m157 (m157-Tg), which is the murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV)-encoded ligand for the Ly49H NK cell activation receptor. The transgenic mice were more susceptible to MCMV infection and were unable to reject m157-Tg bone marrow, suggesting defects in Ly49H(+) NK cells. There was a reversible hyporesponsiveness of Ly49H(+) NK cells that extended to Ly49H-independent stimuli. Continuous Ly49H-m157 interaction was necessary for the functional defects. Interestingly, functional defects occurred when mature wild-type NK cells were adoptively transferred to m157-Tg mice, suggesting that mature NK cells may acquire hyporesponsiveness. Importantly, NK cell tolerance caused by Ly49H-m157 interaction was similar in NK cells regardless of expression of Ly49C, an inhibitory receptor specific for a self-MHC allele in C57BL/6 mice. Thus, engagement of self-specific activation receptors in vivo induces an NK cell tolerance effect that is not affected by self-MHC-specific inhibitory receptors.

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