Natural killer cell stimulatory factor (NKSF) is a 70-kD heterodimeric cytokine that was initially isolated from conditioned medium of human B lymphoblastoid cell lines. The effects of recombinant NKSF on the function of human peripheral blood NK cells were examined. NKSF directly augmented the cytolytic activity of freshly isolated NK cells. Both CD56dim and CD56bright NK cells demonstrated enhanced cytotoxicity after brief exposure to NKSF. In contrast, highly purified T lymphocytes did not exhibit major histocompatibility complex-unrestricted cytotoxicity after short-term culture with NKSF. Like interleukin 2 (IL-2), NKSF augmented the lysis of NK-sensitive, NK-resistant, and antibody-coated targets. Both NKSF and IL-2 induced marked upregulation of several NK cell adhesion molecules known to participate in cytolysis, including CD2, CD11a, and CD54. However, NKSF activates NK cells through a pathway distinct from that of IL-2, since the presence of anti-IL-2 receptor (anti-IL-2R) antibodies or IL-4 did not inhibit the effects of NKSF. NKSF by itself induced very little proliferation of resting NK cells. NK cells preactivated in vitro with IL-2 demonstrated enhanced proliferation to NKSF, but the degree of proliferation was always inferior to that induced by IL-2 alone. Moreover, NKSF strongly inhibited IL-2-induced proliferation of either resting or preactivated NK cells. This inhibition was not the result of decreased IL-2R expression, because NKSF-activated NK cells expressed higher levels of both IL-2Rs p75 and p55. Furthermore, NKSF did not inhibit the proliferation of mitogen-activated T cells, indicating a selective effect on NK cell proliferation. Human NK cells expanded in vivo by prolonged continuous infusions of IL-2 remained fully responsive to NKSF. Picomolar concentrations of NKSF were as effective as nanomolar concentrations of IL-2 in augmenting the cytolytic activity of NK cells expanded in vivo by IL-2. NKSF may play an important role in the regulation of human NK cell function, and its possible use as a therapeutic cytokine deserves further investigation.

This content is only available as a PDF.