Introduction: Murine hepatic NK cells exhibit adaptive features, with liver-specific adhesion molecules CXCR6 and CD49a acting as surface markers.
Methods: We investigated human liver-resident CXCR6+ and CD49a+ NK cells using RNA sequencing, flow cytometry, and functional analysis. We further assessed the role of cytokines in generating NK cells with these phenotypes from the peripheral blood.
Results: Hepatic CD49a+ NK cells could be induced using cytokines and produce high quantities of IFNγ and TNFα, in contrast to hepatic CXCR6+ NK cells. RNA sequencing of liver-resident CXCR6+ NK cells confirmed a tolerant immature phenotype with reduced expression of markers associated with maturity and cytotoxicity. Liver-resident double-positive CXCR6 + CD49a+ hepatic NK cells are immature but maintain high expression of Th1 cytokines as observed for single-positive CD49a+ NK cells. We show that stimulation with activating cytokines can readily induce upregulation of both CD49a and CXCR6 on NK cells in the peripheral blood. In particular, IL-12 and IL-15 can generate CXCR6 + CD49a+ NK cells in vitro from NK cells isolated from the peripheral blood, with comparable phenotypic and functional features to liver-resident CD49a+ NK cells, including enhanced IFNγ and NKG2C expression.
Conclusion: IL-12 and IL-15 may be key for generating NK cells with a tissue-homing phenotype and strong Th1 cytokine profile in the blood, and links peripheral activation of NK cells with tissue-homing. These findings may have important therapeutic implications for immunotherapy of chronic liver disease.
Keywords: CD49a antigen; chemokine receptor 6 protein; cytokines; human liver; natural killer cells.
© 2017 The Authors. Immunity, Inflammation and Disease Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.