Previous studies indicated that CD3-CD16+ natural killer (NK) cells are capable of specific alloantigen recognition. Thus, alloreactive NK clones lysed normal allogeneic target cells (phytohemagglutinin [PHA] blasts) bearing the stimulating alloantigen but did not lyse autologous cells or the majority of unrelated allogeneic cells. In this study we investigated whether NK cells isolated from single individuals could exhibit different allospecificities. To this end, we derived large numbers of CD3-CD16+ clones (in the presence of PHA) from fresh CD3- peripheral blood lymphocytes. Cloning efficiencies ranged between 5 and 10%. The resulting CD3-CD16+ clones were tested for their reactivity against a panel of allogeneic PHA blasts (derived from six donors). In a given individual (A), four distinct groups of clones could be identified according to their pattern of reactivity (over 400 clones have been analyzed). Clones that could be assigned to one or another group of specificity represented 36% of all clones derived from this donor. The remaining clones did not display cytolytic activity against any of the allogeneic target cells used in the panel. None of the clones lysed autologous (A) PHA blasts, yet, these cells were lysed by the representative clones G10 and H12 specific for donor A. Clones displaying a cytolytic pattern of reactivity identical to that defined for donor A were present in other individuals studied, however not all groups of allospecific clones were necessarily represented in different individuals. Allospecific clones belonging to the various groups were homogeneous in the expression of EB6/GL183-triggering surface molecules, and could thus be assigned to one or another of the previously defined subsets of NK cells. Genetic analysis of the new NK-defined alloantigens was performed in representative families. The corresponding characters were found to segregate independently and, at least for three of them, an autosomic recessive type of inheritance could be demonstrated. Moreover, the comparative analysis of the segregation of the major histocompatibility complex haplotypes and the recessive or dominant alleles of the genes governing the five specificities analyzed indicated that there is no independent sampling between the two genetic traits, thus suggesting that the genes regulating the NK-defined specificities are carried by chromosome 6. Finally, some donors expressed more than one specificity, thus providing evidence for an NK-defined complex haplotype.

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