The innate NK cells, allograft rejection, and a key role for IL-15

J Immunol. 2008 Jun 15;180(12):7818-26. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.180.12.7818.


Transplant rejection is mediated primarily by adaptive immune cells such as T cells and B cells. The T and B cells are also responsible for the specificity and memory of the rejection response. However, destruction of allografts involves many other cell types including cells in the innate immune system. As the innate immune cells do not express germline-encoded cell surface receptors that directly recognize foreign Ags, these cells are thought to be recruited by T cells to participate in the rejection response. In this study, we examined the alloreactivity of the innate NK cells in Rag(-/-) mice using a stringent skin transplant model and found that NK cells at a resting state readily reject allogeneic cells, but not the skin allografts. We also found that IL-15, when preconjugated to its high affinity IL-15Ralpha-chain, is remarkably potent in stimulating NK cells in vivo, and NK cells stimulated by IL-15 express an activated phenotype and are surprisingly potent in mediating acute skin allograft rejection in the absence of any adaptive immune cells. Furthermore, NK cell-mediated graft rejection does not show features of memory responses. Our data demonstrate that NK cells are potent alloreactive cells when fully activated and differentiated under certain conditions. This finding may have important clinical implications in models of transplantation and autoimmunity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / genetics
  • Genes, RAG-1
  • Graft Rejection / genetics
  • Graft Rejection / immunology*
  • Graft Rejection / metabolism*
  • Graft Survival / genetics
  • Graft Survival / immunology
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate* / genetics
  • Immunologic Memory / genetics
  • Interleukin-15 / physiology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / genetics
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Skin Transplantation / immunology


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Interleukin-15
  • RAG-1 protein