Blood Journal
Leading the way in experimental and clinical research in hematology

CD16- CD56+ natural killer cells after bone marrow transplantation

  1. R Jacobs,
  2. M Stoll,
  3. G Stratmann,
  4. R Leo,
  5. H Link, and
  6. RE Schmidt
  1. Abt. fur Klinische Immunologie und Transfusionsmedizin, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Germany.


Natural killer (NK) cells are phenotypically defined as lymphocytes expressing the antigens CD56 and mostly CD16 (Fc gamma RIII), but lacking CD3. A small CD3- CD16- CD56+ NK cell subset has been described in normal individuals representing less than 2% of peripheral blood lymphocytes. We analyzed here 70 patients for their reconstitution of the immune system during follow-up after autologous or allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. In 35% of these patients, two different NK cell subsets, namely CD56+dim and CD56+bright cells, were observed. The mean duration of these two subsets after transplant was 4 months. Sixty-five percent of the patients exhibited an increased number of NK cells, but only the typical CD16+ CD56+dim population. The CD56+bright subpopulation represented a particular CD3- CD16- NK subset, with posttransplant frequencies up to 70% of all NK cells and 40% of peripheral blood lymphocytes, respectively. In contrast to normal CD56+dim NK cells, CD56+bright cells coexpressed the activation antigens p75 beta-chain of interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R), CD2R, and CD26, but were negative for CD16. NK and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity activity of CD56+bright cells was low compared with CD56+dim NK cells. But using IL-2 and interferon gamma, their cytotoxicity could be enhanced even more than in CD56+dim lymphocytes. These different subsets may reflect distinct activation or differentiation steps of NK cells during reconstitution of the immune system. Their differential response to IL-2 may be of functional importance for posttransplant cytokine therapy.