Natural killer (NK) cells are characterized by their ability to mediate spontaneous cytotoxicity against susceptible tumor cells and infected cells. They differentiate from hematopoietic progenitor cells. Patients with X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID X1) carry mutations in the gamma c cytokine receptor gene that result in lack of both T and NK cells. To assess the role of interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-7, and IL-15 cytokines, which share gamma c receptor subunit, in NK cell differentiation, we have studied NK cell differentiation from cord blood CD34 (+) cells in the presence of either stem cell factor (SCF), IL-2, and IL-7 or SCF and IL-15. The former cytokine combination efficiently induced CD34 (+) CD7 (+) cord blood cells to proliferate and mature into NK cells, while the latter was also able to induce NK cell differentiation from more immature CD34 (+) CD7 (-) cord blood cells. NK cells expressed CD56 and efficiently killed K562 target cells. These results show that IL-15 could play an important role in the maturation of NK cell from cord blood progenitors. Following retroviral-mediated gene transfer of gamma c into SCID X1 bone marrow progenitors, it was possible to reproduce a similar pattern of NK cell differentiation in two SCID-X1 patients with SCF + IL-2 + IL-7 and more efficiently in one of them with SCF + IL-15. These results strongly suggest that the gamma c chain transduces major signal(s) involved in NK cell differentiation from hematopoietic progenitor cells and that IL-15 interaction with gamma c is involved in this process at an earlier step than IL-2/IL-7 interactions of gamma c are. It also shows that gene transfer into hematopoietic progenitor cells could potentially restore NK cell differentiation in SCID X1 patients.

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