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Coordinated regulation of natural killer receptor expression in the maturing human immune system

Strauss-Albee, D.M., Horowitz, A., Parham, P., Blish, C.A.

Natural killer (NK) cells are responsible for recognizing and killing transformed, stressed, and infected cells. They recognize a set of non-antigen-specific features termed “altered self” through combinatorial signals from activating and inhibitory receptors. These natural killer cell receptors (NKR) are also expressed on CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, B cells, and monocytes, though a comprehensive inventory of NKR expression patterns across leukocyte lineages has never been performed. Using mass cytometry, we found that NKR expression patterns distinguish cell lineages in human peripheral blood. In individuals with high levels of CD57, indicative of a mature immune repertoire, NKR are more likely to be expressed on non-NK cells, especially CD8+ T cells. Mature NK and CD8+ T cell populations show increased diversity of NKR surface expression patterns, but with distinct determinants: mature NK cells acquire primarily inhibitory receptors, while CD8+ T cells attain a specific subset of both activating and inhibitory receptors, potentially imbuing them with a distinct functional role. Concurrently, monocytes show decreased expression of the generalized inhibitory receptor LILRB1, consistent with an increased activation threshold. Therefore, NKR expression is coordinately regulated as the immune system matures, resulting in the transfer of “altered self” recognition potential among leukocyte lineages. This likely reduces antigen specificity in the mature human immune system, and implies that vaccines and therapeutics that engage both its innate and adaptive branches may be more effective in the settings of aging and chronic infection.

Citation

Strauss-Albee, D.M., Horowitz, A., Parham, P., Blish, C.A. "Coordinated regulation of natural killer receptor expression in the maturing human immune system" Journal of Immunology (2014): 4,871–9