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J Immunol. 2000 Aug 1;165(3):1307-13.

IL-18 activates STAT3 in the natural killer cell line 92, augments cytotoxic activity, and mediates IFN-gamma production by the stress kinase p38 and by the extracellular regulated kinases p44erk-1 and p42erk-21.

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Department of Hematology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


IL-18 is a regulator of NK cell function which utilizes the serine-threonine IL-1R-associated kinase signal transduction pathway and may activate additional not yet characterized signaling pathways. Here we evaluated IL-18-mediated signal transduction using the human NK cell line NK92 as a model. NK92 cells were shown by RT-PCR to express all three IL-18 receptor chains (IL-18R, accessory protein-like chain, IL-18-binding protein). Stimulation by IL-18 strongly enhanced tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT3 and of the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) p44erk-1and p42erk-2. In contrast, STAT5 was not activated. The cytolytic activity of NK92 against K562 target cells, which was augmented in a dose-dependent manner by IL-18 in the presence of trace amounts of IL-2, was suppressed by the specific inhibitors of MAPK pathways (PD098059 and SB203580). Similarly, the stimulatory effect of IL-18 on IFN-gamma protein production, given in conjunction with IL-2, was counteracted by inhibition of MAPK. IL-18 alone failed to stimulate IFN-gamma protein production despite inducing expression of IFN-gamma mRNA. IL-2 alone stimulated neither IFN-gamma mRNA expression nor IFN-gamma protein production. IL-18 did not stimulate proliferation of NK92 cells, either alone or in combination with IL-2 or IL-12. Inhibition of the MAPK pathway did not significantly alter the IL-2- and IL-12-induced proliferation of NK92 cells, whereas the Janus kinase/STAT pathway inhibitor AG490 strongly suppressed proliferation. MAPK activation appears to play a prominent role in IL-18 signaling, being involved in transcription and translation of IL-18-induced IFN-gamma mRNA and IL-18-induced cytolytic effects. In contrast, proliferation of NK92 cells is not affected by MAPK p44erk-1 and p42erk-2.

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