Although NK cells are considered innate, recent studies in mice revealed the existence of a unique lineage of hepatic CD49a(+)DX5(-) NK cells with adaptive-like features. Development of this NK cell lineage is, in contrast to conventional NK cells, dependent on T-bet but not Eomes. In this study, we describe the identification of a T-bet(+)Eomes(-)CD49a(+) NK cell subset readily detectable in the human liver, but not in afferent or efferent hepatic venous or peripheral blood. Human intrahepatic CD49a(+) NK cells express killer cell Ig-like receptor and NKG2C, indicative of having undergone clonal-like expansion, are CD56(bright), and express low levels of CD16, CD57, and perforin. After stimulation, CD49a(+) NK cells express high levels of inflammatory cytokines but degranulate poorly. CD49a(+) NK cells retain their phenotype after expansion in long-term in vitro cultures. These results demonstrate the presence of a likely human counterpart of mouse intrahepatic NK cells with adaptive-like features.
Copyright © 2015 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.