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Eur J Immunol. 2008 Dec;38(12):3508-19. doi: 10.1002/eji.200737830.

Rel/NF-kappaB family member RelA regulates NK1.1- to NK1.1+ transition as well as IL-15-induced expansion of NKT cells.

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Leibniz-Institute for Age Research, Fritz-Lipmann-Institute, Jena, Germany.


Development of NKT cells was shown to depend on lymphotoxin (LT) and IL-15 signaling pathways as well as on cytokine receptor common gamma chain. After positive selection, NKT-cell precursors transit through progressive maturation stages including proliferative expansion within the NK1.1(-) window. The transcription factors that integrate different signaling pathways into different stages of NKT-cell development are not well characterized. Here, we show that the Rel/NF-kappaB family member RelA regulates the NK1.1(-) to NK1.1(+) transition during NKT-cell development. RelA is also required for both IL-15- and IL-7-induced proliferation of CD44(hi)NK1.1(-) NKT-cell precursors. Activation of the invariant NKT-cell receptor induces both IL-15 receptor alpha and gamma chains' expression in an NF-kappaB-dependent manner, suggesting a molecular mechanism by which NF-kappaB regulates NKT-cell development. NF-kappaB also regulates TCR-induced expression of LT-alpha and LT-beta within NKT cells. In contrast to previous reports, however, we show that LT signaling is dispensable for thymic NKT-cell development but is essential for their colonization of peripheral organs such as liver.

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