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J Immunol. 1999 Apr 15;162(8):4511-20.

Differential cytokine and chemokine gene expression by human NK cells following activation with IL-18 or IL-15 in combination with IL-12: implications for the innate immune response.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ohio State University, Columbus 43210, USA.


NK cells constitutively express monocyte-derived cytokine (monokine) receptors and secrete cytokines and chemokines following monokine stimulation, and are therefore a critical component of the innate immune response to infection. Here we compared the effects of three monokines (IL-18, IL-15, and IL-12) on human NK cell cytokine and chemokine production. IL-18, IL-15, or IL-12 alone did not stimulate significant cytokine or chemokine production in resting NK cells. The combination of IL-18 and IL-12 induced extremely high amounts of IFN-gamma protein (225 +/- 52 ng/ml) and a 1393 +/- 643-fold increase in IFN-gamma gene expression over those in resting NK cells. IL-15 and IL-12 induced less IFN-gamma protein (24 +/- 10 ng/ml; p < 0.007) and only a 45 +/- 19-fold increase in IFN-gamma gene expression over those in resting NK cells. The CD56bright NK cell subset produced significantly more IFN-gamma following IL-18 and IL-12 compared with CD56dim NK cells (p < 0.008). However, the combination of IL-15 and IL-12 was significantly more potent than that of IL-18 and IL-12 for NK cell production of IL-10, macrophage inflammatory protein-1alpha, macrophage inflammatory protein-1beta, and TNF-alpha at the protein and transcript levels. Granulocyte-macrophage CSF was optimally induced by IL-15 and IL-18. Resting CD56+ NK cells expressed IL-18R transcript that was up-regulated by IL-12 or IL-15. Our results show that distinct cytokine and chemokine patterns are induced in NK cells in response to different costimulatory signals from these three monokines. This suggests that NK cell cytokine production may be governed in part by the monokine milieu induced during the early proinflammatory response to infection and by the subset of NK cells present at the site of inflammation.

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