Key Points

  • Human ETS1 deficiency inhibits expression of several NK cell-linked key transcription factors and inhibits NK cell differentiation

  • ETS1 is required for tumor cell-induced NK cell cytotoxicity and IFN-γ production

Natural killer (NK) cells are important in the immune defense against tumor cells and pathogens, and regulate other immune cells by cytokine secretion. Whereas murine NK cell biology has been extensively studied, knowledge about transcriptional circuitries controlling human NK cell development and maturation is limited. By generating ETS1-deficient human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and by expressing the dominant-negative ETS1 p27 isoform in cord blood (CB) hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs), we show that the transcription factor ETS1 is critically required for human NK cell differentiation. Genome-wide transcriptome analysis determined by RNA-sequencing combined with chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) analysis reveals that human ETS1 directly induces expression of key transcription factors that control NK cell differentiation, i.e. E4BP4, TXNIP, TBET, GATA3, HOBIT and BLIMP1. In addition, ETS1 regulates expression of genes involved in apoptosis and NK cell activation. Our study provides important molecular insights into the role of ETS1 as an important regulator of human NK cell development and terminal differentiation.

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