Activation of human NK cells by plasmacytoid dendritic cells and its modulation by CD4+ T helper cells and CD4+ CD25hi T regulatory cells

Eur J Immunol. 2005 Aug;35(8):2452-8. doi: 10.1002/eji.200526069.


Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) represent a specialized cell population that produce type I interferon (IFN) in response to virus. Although type I IFN is a natural killer (NK) cell modulator, a direct role for pDC in coordinating NK cell functions has not yet been elucidated in detail, especially in humans. Here we report that human pDC, following engagement of Toll-like receptor (TLR) 9, not only activate autologous NK cells, as indicated by the induction of CD69 expression, but also enhance their effector functions, especially cytotoxicity. Moreover, they can induce selective proliferation of CD56bright CD16- NK cells. This activity can be strongly augmented by the addition of autologous CD4+ CD25- T helper cells in an IL-2-dependent fashion. Strikingly, CD4+ CD25hi T regulatory (Treg) cells completely abrogate this IL-2-dependent proliferation of NK cells, while they are not able to influence NK cell activation or proliferation solely induced by pDC. Our data show that TLR9-engaged pDC represent a critical stimulus for human NK cells and that CD4+ Th cells and CD4+ CD25hi Treg cells play an important role in modulating human NK cell responses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • CD56 Antigen / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Dendritic Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Receptors, Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-2 / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9
  • Toll-Like Receptors


  • CD56 Antigen
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Interleukin-2
  • TLR9 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9
  • Toll-Like Receptors