NK cell survival mediated through the regulatory synapse with human DCs requires IL-15Ralpha

J Clin Invest. 2007 Nov;117(11):3316-29. doi: 10.1172/JCI31751.


DCs activate NK cells during innate immune responses to viral infections. However, the composition and kinetics of the immunological synapse mediating this interaction are largely unknown. Here, we report the rapid formation of an immunological synapse between human resting NK cells and mature DCs. Although inhibitory NK cell receptors were polarized to this synapse, where they are known to protect mature DCs from NK cell lysis, the NK cell also received activation signals that induced mobilization of intracellular calcium and CD69 upregulation. The high-affinity component of the receptor for IL-15, IL-15Ralpha, accumulated at the synapse center on NK cells, and blocking of IL-15Ralpha increased NK cell apoptosis and diminished NK cell survival during their interaction with DCs. Furthermore, IL-15Ralpha-deficient NK cells, obtained from donors with a history of infectious mononucleosis, showed diminished survival in culture with DCs. Synapse formation was required for IL-15Ralpha-mediated NK cell survival, because synapse disruption by adhesion molecule blocking decreased DC-induced NK cell survival. These results identify what we believe to be a novel regulatory NK cell synapse with hallmarks of spatially separated inhibitory and activating interactions at its center. We suggest that this synapse formation enables optimal NK cell activation by DCs during innate immune responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / immunology
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell Survival*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Dendritic Cells / cytology
  • Dendritic Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology
  • Interleukin-15 Receptor alpha Subunit / genetics
  • Interleukin-15 Receptor alpha Subunit / metabolism*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Lymphocyte Subsets*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Biomarkers
  • Interleukin-15 Receptor alpha Subunit