Receptor localization and dynamics of murine natural killer cells at single cell level : using advanced fluorescence microscopy

University dissertation from Stockholm : Karolinska Institutet, Dept of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology

Abstract: Natural Killer (NK) cells are immune cells and important for the defense against virally infected and malignant cells. NK cells are regulated by germline encoded activating and inhibitory receptors. Activating receptors specifically recognize ligands which are either encoded by infectious agents, or induced upon infection or cellular stress. Inhibitory receptors interact with self-ligands expressed on healthy cells, among them MHC class I. NK cells inspect the host cells by screening for alterations in activating and inhibitory ligand expression. The balance between input from activating and inhibitory receptors determines the NK cell response. NK cells undergo a process of functional maturation and acquisition of self-tolerance via sensing of the steady-state input through their receptors. This process is known as education. The cytotoxic activity of NK cells can be further increased by cytokines produced by other immune cells. The aim of this thesis was to characterize the differences in receptor dynamics and localization between NK cells based on either cytokine activation or educational status. Fluorescence based advanced microscopy techniques were used to quantitate receptor dynamics and spatial organization. In paper I, we investigated the influence of cytokine stimulation on the lateral diffusion of the inhibitory receptor Ly49A and its ligand MHC class I on NK cells within the cell membrane. The response to cytokine stimulation was heterogeneous among the NK cells. We characterized a subpopulation of NK cells with faster diffusion of both MHC class I and Ly49A. The receptor diffusion was established on primary NK cells using Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy. In paper II, a practical protocol for utilizing FCS on primary lymphocytes was presented. In Paper III, we showed that NKp46 and Ly49A were confined within microdomains on NK cells. The actin cytoskeleton and cholesterol composition of NK cells played important roles in initiating activating cell signaling. In Paper IV, we investigated the organization and clustering of activating and inhibitory receptors on educated and uneducated NK cells. We found that clusters of NKp46 and Ly49A were larger on uneducated NK cells. The nearest neighbour distances from activating to inhibitory receptors were not significantly different between educated and uneducated NK cells, thus the organization of inhibitory receptors in relation to the activating receptors do not seem to be of importance for the educational process. In summary, the findings in this thesis enlightens the importance of altered receptor dynamics and organization on NK cells depending on the state of activation and education. Furthermore, receptor dynamics could be an important aspect for understanding NK cell function.

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