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Eur J Immunol. 1998 Jan;28(1):370-8.

Beta2-microglobulin-deficient NK cells show increased sensitivity to MHC class I-mediated inhibition, but self tolerance does not depend upon target cell expression of H-2Kb and Db heavy chains.

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Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


Mice lacking beta2-microglobulin (beta2m- mice) express greatly reduced levels of MHC class I molecules, and cells from beta2m- mice are therefore highly sensitive to NK cells. However, NK cells from beta2m- mice fail to kill beta2m- normal cells, showing that they are self tolerant. In a first attempt to understand better the basis of this tolerance, we have analyzed more extensively the target cell specificity of beta2m- NK cells. In a comparison between several MHC class I-deficient and positive target cell pairs for sensitivity to beta2m- NK cells, we made the following observations: First, beta2m- NK cells displayed a close to normal ability to kill a panel of MHC class I-deficient tumor cells, despite their nonresponsiveness to beta2m- concanavalin A (Con A)-activated T cell blasts. Secondly, beta2m- NK cells were highly sensitive to MHC class I-mediated inhibition, in fact more so than beta2m+ NK cells. Thirdly beta2m- NK cells were not only tolerant to beta2m- Con A blasts but also to Con A blasts from H-2Kb-/Db- double deficient mice in vitro. We conclude that NK cell tolerance against MHC class I-deficient targets is restricted to nontransformed cells and independent of target cell expression of MHC class I free heavy chains. The enhanced ability of beta2m- NK cells to distinguish between MHC class I-negative and -positive target cells may be explained by increased expression of Ly49 receptors, as described previously. However, the mechanisms for enhanced inhibition by MHC class I molecules appear to be unrelated to self tolerance in beta2m- mice, which may instead operate through mechanisms involving triggering pathways.

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