Natural killer activity in cloned cytotoxic T lymphocytes: regulation by interleukin 2, interferon, and specific antigen

J Immunol. 1985 Aug;135(2):1145-52.


It has previously been shown that monoclonal antigen-specific mouse CTL lines can be induced to express cytolytic activity with the same specificity as that of splenic natural killer (NK) cells following culture in high concentrations of concanavalin A-induced spleen cell supernatants. In the present experiments, we made use of this in vitro system to explore the regulation of NK activity at the clonal level. Interferon-alpha and interferon-beta and interleukin 2 (IL 2) were potent inducers of NK activity in CTL, demonstrating that these substances can activate NK functions directly without the participation of other cell types. By comparison, IFN-gamma was a poor activator of NK activity in CTL (and also in fresh spleen cells). Three major differences between induction of NK activity by IFN-alpha,beta and IL 2 were noted: IFN induced NK activity selectively without affecting specific cytolysis, whereas IL 2 also enhanced specific killing; IFN acted much more rapidly than IL 2; and IFN did not induce the cells to enter the cell cycle nor were there any obvious morphologic changes. Specific antigen was also a strong inducer of NK activity in CTL, but studies with antisera against the various classes of IFN revealed that this effect was mediated, at least in part, via the release of IFN-beta. By contrast, the same antisera had no effect on NK induction by crude TCGF or by highly purified IL 2, indicating that the regulation of NK activity by IL 2 occurs at the clonal level in an IFN-independent manner. Although, IL 2, IFN, and Ag could apparently act alone to induce NK activity, much greater (synergistic) induction was obtained by various combinations of these regulators, suggesting that the delivery of two (or more) signals to the responder cell was required for full expression of the NK state. As with fresh splenic NK cells, the induced NK state in cloned CTL was intrinsically labile as revealed by its rapid decay in the absence of inducers, but it could nonetheless be maintained indefinitely at very high levels in the continued presence of inducers. This clonal system thus displays a responsiveness to regulatory signals exactly analogous to that of splenic NK cells and provides a unique and exciting opportunity to evaluate the biochemistry of the regulation of NK activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clone Cells / immunology
  • Concanavalin A / immunology
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Epitopes
  • Interferon Type I / pharmacology*
  • Interleukin-2 / physiology*
  • Isoantigens / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Kinetics
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred WF
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Epitopes
  • Interferon Type I
  • Interleukin-2
  • Isoantigens
  • Concanavalin A