The identification of developmental stages in natural killer (NK) cells, especially in human NK cells, has lagged for decades. We characterize four novel populations defined by CD11b and CD27, which can represent the distinct stages of human NK cells from different tissues. Nearly all NK cells from peripheral blood are CD11b(+) CD27(-) populations whereas NK cells from cord blood have CD11b(+) CD27(-) and CD11b(+) CD27(+) populations. Interestingly, we have found large CD11b(-) CD27(-) populations of NK cells from deciduas. We also demonstrate that each population could be characterized by unique functional and phenotypic attributes. CD11b(-) CD27(-) NK cells display an immature phenotype and potential for differentiation. CD11b(-) CD27(+) and CD11b(+) CD27(+) NK cells show the best ability to secrete cytokines. CD11b(+) CD27(-) NK cells exhibit high cytolytic function. We demonstrate that human NK cells at different developmental stages have special functions and describe a new model of human NK cell differentiation.
© 2011 The Authors. Immunology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.