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Blood. 2002 Nov 15;100(10):3633-8. Epub 2002 Jul 5.

In vivo evidence for a dependence on interleukin 15 for survival of natural killer cells.

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


Cellular homeostasis requires a balance between cell production, cell survival, and cell death. Production of natural killer (NK) cells from bone marrow precursor cells requires interleukin 15 (IL-15); however, very little is known about the factors controlling survival of mature NK cells in vivo. Because mice deficient in IL-15 (IL-15(-/-) mice) fail to develop NK cells, it is not known whether mature NK cells can survive in an environment lacking IL-15. We hypothesized that IL-15 might indeed be required for survival of mature NK cells in vivo. Freshly isolated NK cells labeled with 5-(and-6)-carboxyfluorescein diacetate, succinimidyl ester (CFSE) were adoptively transferred into IL-15(-/-) mice and littermate control (IL-15(+/-)) mice. Within 36 hours after transfer, NK cells were detected in both IL-15(-/-) and IL-15(+/-) mice; however, significantly more (P <.003) CFSE-positive (CFSE(+)) NK cells were found in control mice than in IL-15(-/-) mice. By 5 days, similar numbers of CFSE(+) NK cells were still easily detected in IL-15(+/-) mice, whereas no CFSE(+) NK cells survived in IL-15(-/-) mice. Furthermore, mice with severe combined immunodeficiency treated with the Fab fragment of a blocking antibody recognizing a signaling subunit of the IL-15 receptor, IL-2/15Rbeta, had a significant ( approximately 90%) loss of NK cells compared with control mice. Finally, NK cells from Bcl-2 transgenic mice that were adoptively transferred into IL-15(-/-) mice did survive. These results show conclusively that IL-15 is required for mature NK cell survival in vivo and suggest that IL-15 mediates its effect on NK cell survival by means of Bcl-2.

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