Natural killer (NK) cells are critical for both innate and adaptive immunity. The development of NK cells requires interactions between their progenitors and the bone-marrow microenvironment; however, little is known about the molecular nature of such interactions. Mice that do not express the transcription factor interferon-regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1; such mice are IRF-1(-/-) mice) have been shown to exhibit a severe NK-cell deficiency. Here we demonstrate that the lack of IRF-1 affects the radiation-resistant cells that constitute the microenvironment required for NK-cell development, but not the NK-cell progenitors themselves. We also show that IRF-1(-/-) bone- marrow cells can generate functional NK cells when cultured with the cytokine interleukin-15 (refs 9-12) and that the interleukin-15 gene is transcriptionally regulated by IRF-1. These results reveal, for the first time, a molecular mechanism by which the bone-marrow microenvironment supports NK-cell development.
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