An actin cytoskeletal barrier inhibits lytic granule release from natural killer cells in patients with Chediak-Higashi syndrome

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018 Sep;142(3):914-927.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.10.040. Epub 2017 Dec 11.


Background: Chediak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is a rare disorder caused by biallelic mutations in the lysosomal trafficking regulator gene (LYST), resulting in formation of giant lysosomes or lysosome-related organelles in several cell types. The disease is characterized by immunodeficiency and a fatal hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis caused by impaired function of cytotoxic lymphocytes, including natural killer (NK) cells.

Objective: We sought to determine the underlying biochemical cause of the impaired cytotoxicity of NK cells in patients with CHS.

Methods: We generated a human cell model of CHS using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) technology. We used a combination of classical techniques to evaluate lysosomal function and cell activity in the model system and super-resolution microscopy to visualize F-actin and lytic granules in normal and LYST-deficient NK cells.

Results: Loss of LYST function in a human NK cell line, NK92mi, resulted in inhibition of NK cell cytotoxicity and reproduced other aspects of the CHS cellular phenotype, including the presence of significantly enlarged lytic granules with defective exocytosis and impaired integrity of endolysosomal compartments. The large granules had an acidic pH and normal activity of lysosomal enzymes and were positive for the proteins essential for lytic granule exocytosis. Visualization of the actin meshwork openings at the immunologic synapse revealed that the cortical actin acts as a barrier for secretion of such large granules at the cell-cell contact site. Decreasing the cortical actin density at the immunologic synapse or decreasing the lytic granule size restored the ability of LYST-deficient NK cells to degranulate and kill target cells.

Conclusion: The cortical actin and granule size play significant roles in NK cell cytotoxic function. We present evidence that the periodicity of subsynaptic actin is an important factor limiting the release of large lytic granules from NK cells from patients with CHS and could be a novel target for pharmaceutical intervention.

Keywords: Chediak-Higashi syndrome; actin cytoskeleton; cytotoxic lymphocyte; cytotoxicity; exocytosis; immune deficiency; lysosomal trafficking regulator; lysosomes; lytic granules; natural killer cell.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / immunology*
  • Cell Line
  • Chediak-Higashi Syndrome / immunology*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / immunology*
  • Cytoskeleton / immunology
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins / genetics


  • Actins
  • LYST protein, human
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins