The Journal of experimental medicine

Nfil3-independent lineage maintenance and antiviral response of natural killer cells.

PMID 24277151


Development of the natural killer (NK) cell lineage is dependent on the transcription factor Nfil3 (or E4BP4), which is thought to act downstream of IL-15 signaling. Nfil3-deficient mice lack NK cells, whereas other lymphocyte lineages (B, T, and NKT cells) remain largely intact. We report the appearance of Ly49H-expressing NK cells in Nfil3(-/-) mice infected with mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) or recombinant viruses expressing the viral m157 glycoprotein. Nfil3(-/-) NK cells at the peak of antigen-driven expansion were functionally similar to NK cells from infected wild-type mice with respect to IFN-γ production and cytotoxicity, and could comparably produce long-lived memory NK cells that persisted in lymphoid and nonlymphoid tissues for >60 d. We demonstrate that generation and maintenance of NK cell memory is an Nfil3-independent but IL-15-dependent process. Furthermore, specific ablation of Nfil3 in either immature NK cells in the bone marrow or mature peripheral NK cells had no observable effect on NK cell lineage maintenance or homeostasis. Thus, expression of Nfil3 is crucial only early in the development of NK cells, and signals through activating receptors and proinflammatory cytokines during viral infection can bypass the requirement for Nfil3, promoting the proliferation and long-term survival of virus-specific NK cells.