Human peripheral blood DNAM-1neg NK cells are a terminally differentiated subset with limited effector functions

Kimberley A. Stannard, Sébastien Lemoine, Nigel J. Waterhouse, Frank Vari, Lucienne Chatenoud, Maher K. Gandhi, Ludovic Martinet, Mark J. Smyth and Camille Guillerey

Key Points

  • The lack of DNAM-1 expression defines a new subset of mature NK cells in the human peripheral blood.

  • DNAM-1neg NK cells have limited killing activity and are poor producers of interferon-γ.


Natural killer (NK) cells are a heterogeneous population of innate lymphocytes whose potent anticancer properties make them ideal candidates for cellular therapeutic application. However, our lack of understanding of the role of NK cell diversity in antitumor responses has hindered advances in this area. In this study, we describe a new CD56dim NK cell subset characterized by the lack of expression of DNAX accessory molecule-1 (DNAM-1). Compared with CD56bright and CD56dimDNAM-1pos NK cell subsets, CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cells displayed reduced motility, poor proliferation, lower production of interferon-γ, and limited killing capacities. Soluble factors secreted by CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cells impaired CD56dimDNAM-1pos NK cell–mediated killing, indicating a potential inhibitory role for the CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cell subset. Transcriptome analysis revealed that CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cells constitute a new mature NK cell subset with a specific gene signature. Upon in vitro cytokine stimulation, CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cells were found to differentiate from CD56dimDNAM-1pos NK cells. Finally, we report a dysregulation of NK cell subsets in the blood of patients diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, characterized by decreased CD56dimDNAM-1pos/CD56dimDNAM-1neg NK cell ratios and reduced cytotoxic activity of CD56dimDNAM-1pos NK cells. Altogether, our data offer a better understanding of human peripheral blood NK cell populations and have important clinical implications for the design of NK cell–targeting therapies.

  • Submitted December 28, 2018.
  • Accepted April 25, 2019.
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