Role of Natural Killer Cell Subsets in Cardiac Allograft Rejection



To achieve donor-specific immune tolerance to allogeneic organ transplants, it is imperative to understand the cell types involved in acute allograft rejection. In wild-type mice, CD4+ T cells are necessary and sufficient for acute rejection of cardiac allografts. However, when T-cell responses are suboptimal, such as in mice treated with costimulation-targeting agents or in CD28-deficient mice, and perhaps in transplanted patients taking immunosuppressive drugs, the participation of other lymphocytes such as CD8+ T cells and NK1.1+ cells becomes apparent. We found that host NK but not NKT cells were required for cardiac rejection. Ly49G2+ NK cells suppressed rejection, whereas a subset of NK cells lacking inhibitory Ly49 receptors for donor MHC class I molecules was sufficient to promote rejection. Notably, rejection was independent of the activating receptors Ly49D and NKG2D. Finally, our experiments supported a mechanism by which NK cells promote expansion and effector function of alloreactive T cells. Thus, therapies aimed at specific subsets of NK cells may facilitate transplantation tolerance in settings of impaired T-cell function.