Natural killer (NK) cells develop from the nonadherent cell component of NK long-term bone marrow (BM) cultures (NK-LTBMC). Because these nonadherent cells are depleted of mature NK cells and T cells, but appear to enriched for NK precursors, they were used as a starting population to begin to define the NK precursors that function in NK- LTBMC. As the stromal cell component of NK-LTBMC has been shown to support interleukin (IL)-2-induced, CD44 dependent, NK cell development from nonadherent NK precursors, NK-LTBMC stroma was used in a limiting dilution assay (LDA) to quantitate the precursors. NK-LTBMC in 96-well plates were irradiated (20 Gy) to kill hematopoietic cells (including the NK precursors), seeded with limiting dilutions of the cells to be quantitated, cultured with 500 U/mL IL-2 for 13 days and assayed for development of NK activity by adding 51Cr-labeled YAC-1 cells to the wells and evaluating the release of 51Cr after 4 hours. Flow cytometric analysis, sorting, and quantitation of the nonadherent cell component of NK-LTBMC showed that NK precursors were concentrated in the CD44neg/dim subset that comprised 10% of the “lymphoid” gated cells. When the CD44neg/dim subset was sorted from BM of mice treated with 5- fluorouracil (5-FU) day before (-1FUBM), there were about 30% T cells, but no NK-1.1+ cells. When the T cells were removed by sorting and the CD44neg/dim, alphabeta, gammadelta T-cell receptorneg (TCR-) subpopulation was seeded onto irradiated stroma with IL-2, they proliferated, developed NK activity, became NK-1.1+ and CD44bright and remained alphabeta, gammadelta TCR-. The frequency of NK precursors in this population as estimated from the LDA was about 1/500.

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