During infection and inflammation, dendritic cells (DC) provide priming signals for natural killer (NK) cells via mechanisms distinct from their antigen processing and presentation functions. The influence of DC on resting NK cells, i.e. at steady-state, is less well studied. We here demonstrate that as early as 1 day after DC depletion, NK cells in naïve mice downregulated the NKG2D receptor and showed decreased constitutive phosphorylation of AKT and mTOR. Subsequently, apoptotic NK cells appeared in the spleen concomitant with reduced NK cell numbers. At 4 days after the onset of DC depletion, increased NK cell proliferation was seen in the spleen resulting in an accumulation of Ly49 receptor-negative NK cells. In parallel, NK cell responsiveness to ITAM-mediated triggering and cytokine stimulation dropped across maturation stages, suggestive of a functional deficiency independent from the homeostatic effect. A role for IL-15 in maintaining NK cell function was supported by a gene signature analysis of NK cell from DC-depleted mice as well as by in vivo DC transfer experiments. We propose that DC, by means of IL-15 transpresentation, are required to maintain not only homeostasis, but also function, at steady-state. These processes appear to be regulated independently from each other.
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© 2016 The Author(s).