NKp46 defines a subset of bovine leukocytes with natural killer cell characteristics



Natural killer (NK) cells have not previously been precisely identified or characterized in cattle or any other ruminant species. We have generated a monoclonal antibody against bovine NKp46, which is expressed exclusively by NK cells in man. NKp46+ cells comprised 1–10% of blood mononuclear cells in cattle, and did not stain with antibodies against CD3, CD4, TCR1, B cell or granulocyte markers. The majority of the NKp46+ cells expressed CD2, and a variable fraction also expressed CD8. The tissue distribution of NKp46+ cells in cattle was compatible with the tissue distribution of NK cells in other species. Bovine NKp46+ cells had typical, large granular lymphocyte morphology, and proliferated vigorously in response to bovine IL-2 for a limited number of cell divisions. IL-2-activated NKp46+ cells killed the bovine kidney cell line MDBK. This cytotoxicity was inhibited by preincubation with antibody against NKp46. In a redirected lysis assay, IL-2-activated NKp46+ cells killed the FcγR+ target cell line P815 after preincubation with antibody against NKp46. Together, these data indicate that bovine NKp46 is anactivating receptor and demonstrate the existence of a subset of leukocytes in cattle that, in terms of surface markers, morphology and function, represent NK cells.