Interleukin-15-induced maturation of human natural killer cells from early thymic precursors: Selective expression of CD94/NKG2-A as the only HLA class I-specific inhibitory receptor

Maria Cristina Mingari, Chiara Vitale, Claudia Cantoni, Rosa Bellomo, Marco Ponte, Francesca Schiavetti, Stefania Bertone, Alessandro Moretta, Lorenzo Moretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Immature postnatal thymocytes were shown to contain precursors which, under suitable culture conditions, give rise to phenotypically and functionally mature natural killer (NK) cells. Here, we analyzed the effect of different cytokines for their ability to induce the expression of HLA class I-specific inhibitory receptor(s) during the process of NK cell development from immature thymocytes. From thymocyte cell suspensions depleted of CD2+, CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, CD56+, and CD16+ cells, we further removed cells expressing HLA class I-specific inhibitory receptors including CD94/NKG2-A, p58.1, and p58.2 by immunomagnetic bead separation. The resulting cells did not contain any of the above NI( receptors as determined by immunofluorescence and flow cytometric analysis, as well as by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) amplification using appropriate sets of primers. Although different cytokines have been used, including interleukin (IL)-7, stem cell factor (SCF), IL-2, and IL-15, only IL-2 or IL-15 induced cell proliferation when used alone. Moreover, maturation towards CD3-CD56+ cells displaying cytolytic activity against the HLA. class I- targets K562 or 221 was detectable in cultures containing IL-15 used alone or in combination with IL-7 or SCE. On the other hand, these CD3- CD56+ cell populations did not lyse HLA class I+ target cells, including autologous PHA blasts. Analysis of the expression of the various HLA class I-specific inhibitory NK receptors revealed the presence of high proportions of CD94/NKG2-A+ cells, while the NK receptors belonging to the Ig superfamily were undetectable both by immunofluorescence and by RT-PCR analysis. The expression of CD94/NKG2-A appeared to be responsible for the inability of cells to lyse HLA class I+ target cells. Thus, addition of anti-CD94 monoclonal antibodies of IgM isotype resulted in lysis of autologous target cells. The use of 221 cells transfected with different HLA class I alleles as target cells confirmed the broad class I specificity of CD94/NKG2-A receptor. Our experiments indicate that IL-15 provides an appropriate stimulus to the expression of CD94/NKG2-A, but not of other class I-specific NK receptors in the process of maturation of NK cells from thymocyte precursors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1374-1380
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Immunology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1997


  • CD94
  • HLA class I inhibitory receptor
  • Interleukin-15
  • NKG2-A
  • Thymic precursors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology

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