We have identified and purified a novel cytokine, NK cell stimulatory factor (NKSF), from the cell-free supernatant fluid of the phorbol diester-induced EBV-transformed human B lymphoblastoid cell line RPMI 8866. NKSF activity is mostly associated to a 70-kD anionic glycoprotein. The purified 70-kD protein, isolated from an SDS-PAGE gel, yields upon reduction two small species of molecular masses of 40 and 35 kD, suggesting that this cytokine is a heterodimer. When added to human PBL, purified NKSF preparations induce IFN-gamma production and synergize with rIL-2 in this activity, augment the NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity of PBL preparations against both NK-sensitive and NK-resistant target cell lines, and enhance the mitogenic response of T cells to mitogenic lectins and phorbol diesters. The three activities remain associated through different purification steps resulting in a 9,200-fold purification, and purified NKSF mediates the three biological activities at concentrations in the range of 0.1-10 pM. These data strongly suggest that the same molecule mediates these three activities, although the presence of traces of contaminant peptides even in the most purified NKSF preparations does not allow us to exclude the possibility that distinct biologically active molecules have been co-purified. The absence of other known cytokines in the purified NKSF preparations, the unusual molecular conformation of NKSF, the high specific activity of the purified protein, and the spectrum of biological activities distinguish NKSF from other previously described cytokines.

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