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Immunity. 2008 Dec 19;29(6):958-70. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2008.11.001. Epub 2008 Dec 11.

Microbial flora drives interleukin 22 production in intestinal NKp46+ cells that provide innate mucosal immune defense.

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Cytokines and Lymphoid Development Unit, Institut Pasteur, Paris F-75724, France.


Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with spontaneous antitumor activity, and they produce interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) that primes immune responses. Whereas T helper cell subsets differentiate from naive T cells via specific transcription factors, evidence for NK cell diversification is limited. In this report, we characterized intestinal lymphocytes expressing the NK cell natural cytotoxicity receptor NKp46. Gut NKp46+ cells were distinguished from classical NK cells by limited IFN-gamma production and absence of perforin, whereas several subsets expressed the nuclear hormone receptor retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor t (RORgammat) and interleukin-22 (IL-22). Intestinal NKp46+IL-22+ cells were generated via a local process that was conditioned by commensal bacteria and required RORgammat. Mice lacking IL-22-producing NKp46+ cells showed heightened susceptibility to the pathogen Citrobacter rodentium, consistent with a role for intestinal NKp46+ cells in immune protection. RORgammat-driven diversification of intestinal NKp46+ cells thereby specifies an innate cellular defense mechanism that operates at mucosal surfaces.

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