The interleukin 2 receptor beta chain (IL-2R beta) is preferentially expressed in natural killer (NK) cells, but is not detected in a majority of resting T and B cells. We recently established a novel monoclonal antibody (mAb) to murine IL-2R beta and examined in vivo the effect of the mAb in mice. We found that intraperitoneal injection of the anti-IL-2R beta mAb into adult mice resulted in a selective in vivo elimination of splenic NK function in various mouse strains. The reduction of NK cell function is associated with complete disappearance of NK1.1+ cells in C57BL/6 mice. Other lymphocyte subsets in the thymus and spleen were uncompromised. T cell function was not affected by the mAb treatment as judged by allogeneic cytotoxic T cell induction. The single injection of anti-IL-2R beta mAb caused a long-term elimination of splenic NK cells, lasting for at least 5 wk. We also found that NK and/or NK precursor cells become susceptible to the mAb treatment only after birth, suggesting that functional maturation of NK cells in terms of IL-2R beta expression is a later event in the course of NK cell development. The use of the anti-IL-2R beta mAb will be useful in defining the physiological role of NK cells in host defense as well as dissecting their developmental pathway in vivo.

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