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Blood. 2010 Aug 26;116(8):1299-307. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-11-253286. Epub 2010 May 26.

CD62L expression identifies a unique subset of polyfunctional CD56dim NK cells.

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Innate Immunity, Deutsches Rheuma Forschungszentrum (DRFZ), Berlin, Germany.


Human natural killer (NK) cells comprise 2 main subsets, CD56(bright) and CD56(dim) cells, that differ in function, phenotype, and tissue localization. To further dissect the heterogeneity of CD56(dim) cells, we have performed transcriptome analysis and functional ex vivo characterization of human NK-cell subsets according to the expression of markers related to differentiation, migration or competence. Here, we show for the first time that the ability to respond to cytokines or to activating receptors is mutually exclusive in almost all NK cells with the exception of CD56(dim) CD62L(+) cells. Indeed, only these cells combine the ability to produce interferon-gamma after cytokines and proliferate in vivo during viral infection with the capacity to kill and produce cytokines upon engagement of activating receptors. Therefore, CD56(dim) CD62L(+) cells represent a unique subset of polyfunctional NK cells. Ex vivo analysis of their function, phenotype, telomere length, frequencies during ageing as well as transfer experiments of NK-cell subsets into immunodeficient mice suggest that CD56(dim) CD62L(+) cells represent an intermediate stage of NK-cell maturation, which after restimulation can accomplish multiple tasks and further develop into terminally differentiated effectors.

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