CD94 functions as a natural killer cell inhibitory receptor for different HLA class I alleles: identification of the inhibitory form of CD94 by the use of novel monoclonal antibodies



CD94 molecules have been suggested to function as inhibitory natural killer cell (NK) receptors involved in the recognition of HLA-B alleles sharing the Bw6 supertypic specificity. In this study, we show that CD94 molecules may play a more general role: they are also involved in the recognition of other HLA class I molecules, including HLA-C and at least some HLA-A alleles. The inhibitory effect mediated by CD94 molecules on NK cytolytic activity is lower in magnitude than that of bona fide inhibitory receptors such as p58 or p70. Distinct from the other human NK receptors involved in HLA class I recognition, CD94 is expressed on virtually all NK cells. In addition, it has been shown to be functionally heterogeneous since, in different clones, CD94 mediated either cell triggering or inhibition. Although NK cells expressing inhibitory CD94 molecules are usually characterized by a CD94bright phenotype, there is no precise correlation between fluorescence intensity and inhibitory or activating function. Here, we describe two novel monoclonal antibodies (mAb) which selectively recognize inhibitory CD94 molecules and bind to a subset (variable in size among different donors) of CD94bright cells. The use of these mAb allows the direct assessment of NK cells expressing inhibitory CD94 receptors both at the population and at the clonal level.