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PLoS One. 2008 May 21;3(5):e2241. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002241.

Generation of a novel regulatory NK cell subset from peripheral blood CD34+ progenitors promoted by membrane-bound IL-15.

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  • 1INSERM, UMR 542, Université de Paris XI, Hôpital Paul Brousse, Villejuif, France.



NK cells have been long time considered as cytotoxic lymphocytes competent in killing virus-infected cells and tumors. However, NK cells may also play essential immuno-regulatory functions. In this context, the real existence of a defined NK subset with negative regulatory properties has been hypothesized but never clearly demonstrated.


Herein, we show the in vitro generation from human peripheral blood haematopoietic progenitors (PB-HP), of a novel subset of non-cytolytic NK cells displaying a mature phenotype and remarkable immuno-regulatory functions (NK-ireg). The main functional hallmark of these NK-ireg cells is represented by the surface expression/release of HLA-G, a major immunosuppressive molecule. In addition, NK-ireg cells secrete two powerful immuno-regulatory factors: IL-10 and IL-21. Through these factors, NK-ireg cells act as effectors of the down-regulation of the immune response: reconverting mature myeloid DC (mDC) into immature/tolerogenic DC, blocking cytolytic functions on conventional NK cells and inducing HLA-G membrane expression on PB-derived monocytes. The generation of "NK-ireg" cells is obtained, by default, in culture conditions favouring cell-to-cell contacts, and it is strictly dependent on reciprocal trans-presentation of membrane-bound IL-15 forms constitutively and selectively expressed by human CD34(+) PB-HP. Finally, a small subset of NKp46(+) HLA-G(+) IL-10(+) is detected within freshly isolated decidual NK cells, suggesting that these cells could represent an in vivo counterpart of the NK-ireg cells.


In conclusion, NK-ireg cells represent a novel truly differentiated non-cytolytic NK subset with a self-sustainable phenotype (CD56(+) CD16(+) NKp30(+) NKp44(+) NKp46(+) CD94(+) CD69(+) CCR7(+)) generated from specific pSTAT6(+) GATA3(+) precursors. NK-ireg cells could be employed to develop new immuno-suppressive strategies in autoimmune diseases, transplant rejection or graft versus host diseases. In addition, NK-ireg cells can be easily derived from peripheral blood of the patients and could constitute an autologous biotherapic tool to be used combined or in alternative to other immuno-regulatory cells.

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