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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


eISSN: 2329-0358

Circulating NKG2A–NKG2D+ CD56dimCD16+ Natural Killer (NK) Cells as Mediators of Functional Immunosurveillance in Kidney Transplant Recipients

Li Zhu, Hristos Karakizlis, Rolf Weimer, Christian Morath, Naruemol Ekpoom, Eman H. Ibrahim, Gerhard Opelz, Volker Daniel

Department of Hematology, Tongji Hospital, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hebei, China (mainland)

Ann Transplant 2020; 25:e925162

DOI: 10.12659/AOT.925162

Available online: 2020-10-23

Published: 2020-12-22


BACKGROUND: Recently, in patients with long-term functioning allografts, we showed that high NKG2D+ NK cell numbers in the peripheral blood were associated with a higher glomerular filtration rate, whereas high NKG2A+ NK cells were associated with a lower glomerular filtration rate. Both NK cell determinants react with ligands (MIC A/B, HLA-E) expressed on stressed cells, such as virus-infected cells, tumor cells, or cells activated during graft rejection. In the present study, we attempted to characterize these 2 NK cell subsets further.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: Using flow cytometry, NK cell subsets were analyzed in whole-blood samples of 35 stable kidney transplant recipients (serum creatinine mean±SD: 1.44±0.45 mg/dl). Blood was obtained 95-3786 days after transplant (mean±SD: 1168±1011 days after transplant).
RESULTS: High proportions of NKG2A-NKG2D+ NK cells were strongly associated with high numbers of CD56dimCD16+ (p=0.001) NK cells co-expressing CD107 (P=0.001) and granzyme B (P=0.045), suggesting that NKG2A-NKG2D+ NK cells are predominantly cytotoxic. In contrast, high numbers of NKG2A+NKG2D- NK cells were strongly associated with low numbers of CD56dimCD16+ NK cells expressing CD107 (P=0.026), CD25 (p=0.008), TGF-ßR (P=0.028), and TGF-ß (P=0.005), suggesting that patients with high proportions of NKG2A+NKG2D- NK cells have low proportions of NK cell subsets with cytotoxic phenotype.
CONCLUSIONS: A high proportion of NKG2A+NKG2D- NK cells is associated with decreased counts of NKG2A-NKG2D+ CD56dimCD16+ cytotoxic NK cells in the circulation. This may result in impaired immunosurveillance. We would like to hypothesize that NKG2A-NKG2D+ CD56dimCD16+ cytotoxic NK cells eliminate MIC A/B-expressing stressed cells which possess a potential to harm the transplant. Further studies will have to evaluate whether the proportion of NKG2A-NKG2D+ CD56dimCD16+ cytotoxic NK cells is a useful biomarker for the prediction of an uncomplicated postoperative course in kidney transplant recipients.

Keywords: Blood, Delayed Graft Function, Kidney Transplantation, Killer Cells, Natural, NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily C, NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K