Natural killer cells are innate effector cells known for their potential to produce interferon-γ and kill tumour and virus-infected cells. Recently, B220+CD11cintNK1.1+ NK cells were found to also have antigen-presenting capacity like dendritic cells (DC), hence their name interferon-producing killer DC (IKDC). Shortly after discovery, it has already been questioned if IKDC really represent a separate subset of NK cells or merely represent a state of activation. Despite similarities with DCs, in vivo evidence that they behave as bona fide APCs is lacking. Here, using a model of influenza infection, we found recruitment of both conventional B220- NK cells and IKDCs to the lung. To study antigen-presenting capacity of NK cell subsets and compare it to cDCs, all cell subsets were sorted from lungs of infected mice and co-cultured ex vivo with antigen specific T cells. Both IKDCs and conventional NK cells as well as cDCs presented virus-encoded antigen to CD8 T cells, whereas only cDCs presented to CD4 T cells. The absence of CD4 responses was predominantly due to a deficiency in MHCII processing, as preprocessed peptide antigen was presented equally well by cDCs and IKDCs. In vivo, the depletion of NK1.1-positive NK cells and IKDCs reduced the expansion of viral nucleoprotein-specific CD8 T cells in the lung and spleen, but did finally not affect viral clearance from the lung. In conclusion, we found evidence for APC function of lung NK cells during influenza infection, but this is a feature not exclusive to the IKDC subset.

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Journal PLoS ONE
Geurts van Kessel, C.H, Bergen, I.M, Muskens, F, Boon, L, Hoogsteden, H.C, Osterhaus, A.D.M.E, … Lambrecht, B.N.M. (2009). Both conventional and interferon killer dendritic cells have antigen-presenting capacity during influenza virus infection. PLoS ONE, 4(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007187