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J Immunol. 2004 Dec 1;173(11):6547-63.

Novel insights on human NK cells' immunological modalities revealed by gene expression profiling.

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The Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.


As part of the innate immune system, human NK cells play a critical role early in the systemic host defense against pathogens and tumor cells. Recent studies suggest a more complex view of NK cell behavior, as different functions and tissue localizing capabilities seem to be preferentially assigned to distinct subpopulations of NK cells, CD56(dim)CD16(+) or CD56(bright)CD16(-). In this study, we used oligonucleotide microarrays to compare the expression profile of approximately 20,000 genes in three NK cell subpopulations: peripheral blood-derived CD56(dim)CD16(+), CD56(bright)CD16(-), and in vitro-activated CD16(+) NK cells. The differential expression of selected genes was verified by flow cytometry and functional assays. When comparing CD56(dim)CD16(+) and CD56(bright)CD16(-) subsets, a new heterogeneous molecular basis for the functional and developmental differences between these two subsets was revealed. Furthermore, systematic analysis of transcriptional changes in activated CD16(+) NK cells provided us with a better understanding of NK function in inflamed tissues. We highlight a number of genes that were overexpressed upon activation (e.g., OX40 ligand, CD86, Tim3, galectins, etc.), that enable these cells to directly cross-talk with other innate and adaptive immune effectors. The overexpressed genes assign novel intriguing immunomodulatory functions to activated NK cells, in addition to their potent cytotoxic abilities.

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