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Mol Immunol. 2009 Sep;46(15):3108-16. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2009.06.009. Epub 2009 Jul 9.

Exposure to cigarette smoke suppresses IL-15 generation and its regulatory NK cell functions in poly I:C-augmented human PBMCs.

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Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Centre for Gene Therapeutics, McMaster University, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5.


Both NK cells and IL-15 play crucial roles in innate immunity against viral infections and cancer. Cigarette smoke is known to increase susceptibility to infections and certain cancers. Interleukin (IL)-15 plays an important role in immune responses by regulating proliferation, survival and functions of NK cells. Here, we examined the impact of cigarette smoke on IL-15 production and IL-15 mediated NK cell functions in human PBMCs. We report that cigarette smoke significantly suppresses the induction of IL-15 by poly I:C in human PBMCs. Serum IL-15 levels among smokers was significantly lower than non-smokers. In contrast to a profound increases in intracellular IL-15/IL-15Ralpha in poly I:C-treated PBMCs, exposure of PBMCs to smoke-conditioned media (SCM) diminished the IL-15/IL-15Ralpha production. We examined if inhibition of IL-15 production could lead to less NK cell activation. Interestingly, SCM-treated PBMCs had diminished up-regulation of NK cell activation marker, CD69, but not NKG2D compared with controls after poly I:C stimulation. We then confirmed by using IL-15 neutralizing antibody as well as exogenous IL-15 that the ploy I:C-induced NK cells activation was IL-15 mediated. More importantly, cigarette smoke significantly impaired NK cell cytolytic potential to kill K562 cancer cells which was found to be IL-15 mediated. The inhibition of IL-15 and its regulatory NK cell activities were linked to attenuated STAT3 and STAT5, but not ERK1/2 phosphorylations. We demonstrate, for the first time, that cigarette smoke compromises IL-15 production and as a result NK cell function which could link to the higher incidence of cancers or viral infections observed among smokers.

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