Natural killer (NK) cells develop in the bone marrow and are known to gradually acquire the ability to eliminate infected and malignant cells, yet the cellular stages of NK lineage commitment and maturation are incompletely understood. Using 12-color flow cytometry, we identified a novel NK-committed progenitor (pre-NKP) that is a developmental intermediate between the upstream common lymphoid progenitor and the downstream NKP, previously assumed to represent the first stage of NK lineage commitment. Our analysis also refined the purity of NKPs (rNKP) by 6-fold such that 50% of both pre-NKP and rNKP cells gave rise to NKp46+ NK cells at the single-cell level. On transplantation into unconditioned Rag2-/-Il2rγc-/- recipients, both pre-NKPs and rNKPs generated mature NK cells expressing a repertoire of Ly49 family members that degranulated on stimulation ex vivo. Intrathymic injection of these progenitors, however, yielded no NK cells, suggesting a separate origin of thymic NK cells. Unlike the rNKP, the pre-NKP does not express IL-2Rβ (CD122), yet it is lineage committed toward the NK cell fate, adding support to the theory that IL-15 signaling is not required for NK commitment. Taken together, our data provide a high-resolution in vivo analysis of the earliest steps of NK cell commitment and maturation.
Distinguishing dendritic cells (DCs) from other cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system is complicated by the shared expression of cell surface markers such as CD11c. In this study, we identified Zbtb46 (BTBD4) as a transcription factor selectively expressed by classical DCs (cDCs) and their committed progenitors but not by plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs), monocytes, macrophages, or other lymphoid or myeloid lineages. Using homologous recombination, we replaced the first coding exon of Zbtb46 with GFP to inactivate the locus while allowing detection of Zbtb46 expression. GFP expression in Zbtb46(gfp/+) mice recapitulated the cDC-specific expression of the native locus, being restricted to cDC precursors (pre-cDCs) and lymphoid organ- and tissue-resident cDCs. GFP(+) pre-cDCs had restricted developmental potential, generating cDCs but not pDCs, monocytes, or macrophages. Outside the immune system, Zbtb46 was expressed in committed erythroid progenitors and endothelial cell populations. Zbtb46 overexpression in bone marrow progenitor cells inhibited granulocyte potential and promoted cDC development, and although cDCs developed in Zbtb46(gfp/gfp) (Zbtb46 deficient) mice, they maintained expression of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and leukemia inhibitory factor receptors, which are normally down-regulated in cDCs. Thus, Zbtb46 may help enforce cDC identity by restricting responsiveness to non-DC growth factors and may serve as a useful marker to identify rare cDC progenitors and distinguish between cDCs and other mononuclear phagocyte lineages.
B cells diversify and affinity mature their antigen receptor repertoire in germinal centers (GCs). GC B cells receive help signals during transient interaction with T cells, yet it remains unknown how these transient T-B interactions in the light zone sustain the subsequent proliferative program of selected B cells that occurs in the anatomically distant dark zone. Here, we show that the transcription factor AP4 was required for sustained GC B cell proliferation and subsequent establishment of a diverse and protective antibody repertoire. AP4 was induced by c-MYC during the T-B interactions, was maintained by T-cell-derived interleukin-21 (IL-21), and promoted repeated rounds of divisions of selected GC B cells. B-cell-specific deletion of AP4 resulted in reduced GC sizes and reduced somatic hypermutation coupled with a failure to control chronic viral infection. These results indicate that AP4 integrates T-cell-mediated selection and sustained expansion of GC B cells for humoral immunity.
Interleukin 7 (IL-7) promotes pre-B cell survival and proliferation by activating the Pim1 and Akt kinases. These signals must be attenuated to induce G1 cell cycle arrest and expression of the RAG endonuclease, which are both required for IgL chain gene rearrangement. As lost IL-7 signals would limit pre-B cell survival, how cells survive during IgL chain gene rearrangement remains unclear. We show that RAG-induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) generated during IgL chain gene assembly paradoxically promote pre-B cell survival. This occurs through the ATM-dependent induction of Pim2 kinase expression. Similar to Pim1, Pim2 phosphorylates BAD, which antagonizes the pro-apoptotic function of BAX. However, unlike IL-7 induction of Pim1, RAG DSB-mediated induction of Pim2 does not drive proliferation. Rather, Pim2 has antiproliferative functions that prevent the transit of pre-B cells harboring RAG DSBs from G1 into S phase, where these DNA breaks could be aberrantly repaired. Thus, signals from IL-7 and RAG DSBs activate distinct Pim kinase family members that have context-dependent activities in regulating pre-B cell proliferation and survival.
Upon intravenous transplantation, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can home to specialized niches, yet most HSCs fail to engraft unless recipients are subjected to toxic preconditioning. We provide evidence that, aside from immune barriers, donor HSC engraftment is restricted by occupancy of appropriate niches by host HSCs. Administration of ACK2, an antibody that blocks c-kit function, led to the transient removal of >98% of endogenous HSCs in immunodeficient mice. Subsequent transplantation of these mice with donor HSCs led to chimerism levels of up to 90%. Extrapolation of these methods to humans may enable mild but effective conditioning regimens for transplantation.