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Mol Immunol. 2008 May;45(9):2559-69. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2008.01.001. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Bcl-xL is associated with the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-15 on the survival of CD56(dim) natural killer cells.

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Institute of Immunology, Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at Microscale, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230027, China.


Human NK cells can be distinguished into CD56(bright) and CD56(dim) subsets based on cell surface CD56 density. It has been shown that IL-2 and IL-15 have opposing effects on life and death of CD8(+) T cells. However, the roles of IL-2 and IL-15 in regulating these two NK cell subsets remain elusive. In this study, we comparatively analyzed the effects of IL-2 and IL-15 on two NK cell subsets. IL-15 improved the proliferation and activation of CD56(dim) NK cells in long-term cord blood mononuclear cell culture, but IL-2 only maintained the survival of CD56(bright) NK cells. The percentage of CD56(+)Annexin V(+) NK cells cultured with IL-15 was lower than that with IL-2; moreover, most of Annexin V(+) NK cells were primarily in the CD56(dim) NK cells. IL-15 cultured NK cells expressed higher level of Bcl-xL than IL-2 cultured cells. Furthermore, IL-15 more strongly upregulated CD25 expression and better maintained the expression of IL-15Ralpha than IL-2. These results suggest that CD56(dim) NK cells undergo apoptosis when cultured with IL-2, but IL-15 inhibits their apoptosis and Bcl-xL is associated with the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-15. So IL-15 played a crucial role in sustaining long-lasting functions of CD56(dim) NK cells.

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