Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes that play a critical role in both innate and adaptive immune responses. It has been shown that CD27 and CD11b are antigens expressed in the last stage of NK cells development and allow the classification of NK cells into three functional subsets. Tolerant NK cells are double negative (DN) for CD27 and CD11b, have an immature phenotype and present low secretory and cytotoxic potential. The secretory NK cells are CD27 positive, have a great ability to release cytokines, but do not exhibit cytotoxicity properties. The cytotoxic NK cells express CD11b, release granzymes and perforins, but are less capable of secreting cytokines. While cytotoxic NK cells are essential for the natural defenses against infected or malignant cells, secretory NK cells, when activated, produce different cytokines, including IFNγ, TNFα, TGFβ, GM-CSF, MIP1α, MIP1β, IL-10 and others, which may modify the functions or other hematopoietic cells including the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). We hypothesized that deregulation of the balance between secretory or cytotoxic subtypes of NK cells may favor HSC malignant transformation and contribute to stem cell-derived diseases. In this regard, few studies have shown that NK cells are defective in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). In contrast to CML, the role of NK cells in BCR-ABL1 negative-myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) is currently unexplored. We aimed to study the activity of NK cells and their subsets in murine primary cells from MPN. NK cells subsets were quantified by flow cytometry by the use of spleen cells from a pre-established conditional vavCre knockin Jak2V617F (Jak2VF) murine model. Besides genotyping to identify controls (Jak2 wt/wt vavCre+, or Jak2WT) and Jak2-mutated mice (Jak2 wt/V617F vavCre+, Jak2VF), the presence of polycythemia and splenomegaly was confirmed in the animals with MPN. Mice (n=5 per group) were euthanized between 8-12 weeks of age. For immunophenotyping, spleen cells were isolated, submitted to red cell lyse, and stained with fluorescence-conjugated antibodies against Ter119, CD19, CD4, CD8, CD3, NK1.1 and CD27 and CD11b. All the stainings were performed at 4°C for 20 minutes and acquisition was performed in a FACSCanto™II flow cytometer (BD Biosciences). Data was analyzed by the use of the Flowjo software version X. When compared to Jak2WT controls, the Jak2VF mice had lower numbers of NK cells (1,447 x 106 versus 0,381 x 106 p<0.05) and T cells (0,638 x 106 versus 0,158 x 106 of the spleen; p<0.05) among the total splenocytes. The analysis of NK subsets showed an increase in the percentages of DN NK cells (CD27-CD11b-) in the spleen of Jak2VF mice as compared to controls (14.84% versus 4.97%; p<0.05). CD27+ immature and mature secretory NK (CD27+CD11b-/+) cells also seemed to be increased in Jak2-mutated mice but this data did not reach statistical significance (37.43% versus 17.65%; p=0.1). On the other hand, when compared to Jak2WT controls, the Jak2VF mice presented lower percentages of CD11b+ cytotoxic NK cells (77.07% versus 47.80% of the spleen cells; p<0.05). In agreement, when the expression of NK receptors was analyzed by flow cytometry, the inhibitory NKG2A receptor was found to be higher expressed in Jak2VF NK cells as compared to non-mutated cells, while the expression of the activatory receptors Ly49H and Ly49D was reduced in Jak2-mutated NK cells. Of note, low levels of the Jak2V617F mutation were detected in sorted NK cells isolated from Jak2VF mice as compared to controls by Real Time quantitative RT-PCR, thus suggesting that the distribution between NK cell subtypes observed here is associated with the JAK2 mutational status. In summary, when compared to controls, Jak2-mutated mice presented an increased proportion of tolerant NK cells, previously described as immature cells with low secretory and cytotolytic potential. To date, CD11b-/CD27- tolerant cells have been observed among solid tumor-infiltrating NK cells, but have not been previously associated with MPN. Moreover, an inverted ratio between the secretory and cytotoxic NK subsets was also detected in Jak2VF animals, suggesting that a cytotoxic deficiency occurs and may contribute to the leukemic stem cell expansion. The expansion of the NK secretory potential deserves further elucidation. Our study provided new insights into the distribution of JAK2V617F NK functional subsets that may be used as future therapeutic targets for MPN.


Kobayashi: Pfizer: Consultancy.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.