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Infect Immun. 2008 Apr;76(4):1719-27. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00870-07. Epub 2008 Jan 22.

Direct binding of human NK cell natural cytotoxicity receptor NKp44 to the surfaces of mycobacteria and other bacteria.

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Dipartimento di Patologia Sperimentale, Biotecnologie Mediche, Infettivologia ed Epidemiologia, University of Pisa, Via San Zeno 35-39, 56127 Pisa, Italy.


Our previous studies demonstrated that Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) can directly interact with human NK cells and induce the proliferation, gamma interferon production, and cytotoxic activity of such cells without the need for accessory cells. Thus, the aim of the present study was to identify the putative receptor(s) responsible for the recognition of BCG by human NK cells and potentially involved in the activation of NK cells. To this end, we first investigated the surface expression of three NK cell-activating receptors belonging to the natural cytoxicity receptor (NCR) family on highly purified human NK cells upon in vitro direct stimulation with BCG. An induction of the surface expression of NKp44, but not of NKp30 or NKp46, was observed after 3 and 4 days of in vitro stimulation with live BCG. The NKp44 induction involved mainly a particular NK cell subset expressing the CD56 marker at high density, CD56(bright). In order to establish whether NKp44 could directly bind to BCG, whole BCG cells were stained with soluble forms of the three NCRs chimeric for the human immunoglobulin G (IgG) Fc fragment (NKp30-Fc, NKp44-Fc, NKp46-Fc), followed by incubation with a phycoerythrin (PE)-conjugated goat anti-human IgG antibody. Analysis by flow cytometry of the complexes revealed a higher PE fluorescence intensity for BCG incubated with NKp44-Fc than for BCG incubated with NKp30-Fc, NKp46-Fc, or negative controls. The binding of NKp44-Fc to the BCG surface was confirmed with immunogold labeling using transmission electron microscopy, suggesting the presence of a putative ligand(s) for human NKp44 on the BCG cell wall. Similar binding assays performed on a number of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria revealed a pattern of NKp44-Fc binding restricted to members of the genus Mycobacterium, to the mycobacterium-related species Nocardia farcinica, and to Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Altogether, the results obtained indicate, for the first time, that at least one member of the NCR family (NKp44) may be involved in the direct recognition of bacterial pathogens by human NK cells.

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