Natural killer (NK) cells provide important host defense and can generate long-lived memory NK cells. Here, by using novel transgenic mice carrying inducible Cre expressed under the control of Ncr1 gene, we demonstrated that two distinct long-lived NK cell subsets differentiate in a mouse model of cytomegalovirus (MCMV) infection. NK cells expressing the MCMV-specific Ly49H receptor differentiated into memory NK cells by an activating signaling through Ly49H and Ly49H− NK cells differentiated into cytokine-activated NK cells by exposure to inflammatory cytokines during infection. Interleukin-12 is indispensable for optimal generation of both antigen-specific memory NK cells and cytokine-activated NK cells. MCMV-specific memory NK cells show enhanced effector function and augmented antitumor activity in vivo as compared with cytokine-activated NK cells, whereas cytokine-activated NK cells exhibited a more robust response to IL-15 and persisted better in an MCMV-free environment. These findings reveal that NK cells are capable of differentiation into distinct long-lived subsets with different functional properties.
- Submitted: 18 May 2016
- Revision received 5 August 2016
- Accepted: 27 September 2016
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