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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30930. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030930. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Defining early human NK cell developmental stages in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine-Laboratory of Medical Immunology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


A better understanding of human NK cell development in vivo is crucial to exploit NK cells for immunotherapy. Here, we identified seven distinctive NK cell developmental stages in bone marrow of single donors using 10-color flow cytometry and found that NK cell development is accompanied by early expression of stimulatory co-receptor CD244 in vivo. Further analysis of cord blood (CB), peripheral blood (PB), inguinal lymph node (inLN), liver lymph node (liLN) and spleen (SPL) samples showed diverse distributions of the NK cell developmental stages. In addition, distinctive expression profiles of early development marker CD33 and C-type lectin receptor NKG2A between the tissues, suggest that differential NK cell differentiation may take place at different anatomical locations. Differential expression of NKG2A and stimulatory receptors (e.g. NCR, NKG2D) within the different subsets of committed NK cells demonstrated the heterogeneity of the CD56(bright)CD16⁺/⁻ and CD56(dim)CD16⁺ subsets within the different compartments and suggests that microenvironment may play a role in differential in situ development of the NK cell receptor repertoire of committed NK cells. Overall, differential in situ NK cell development and trafficking towards multiple tissues may give rise to a broad spectrum of mature NK cell subsets found within the human body.

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