The transcription factor Bcl11b promotes both canonical and adaptive NK cell differentiation

Tim D. Holmes, Ram Vinay Pandey, Eric Y. Helm, Heinrich Schlums, Hongya Han, Tessa M. Campbell, Theodore T. Drashansky, Samuel Chiang, Cheng Ying Wu, Christine Tao, Moneef Shoukier, Eva Tolosa, Sandra Von Hardenberg, Miao Sun, Christian Klemann, Rebecca A. Marsh, Colleen M. Lau, Yin Lin, Joseph C. Sun, Robert MånssonFrank Cichocki, Dorina Avram, Yenan T. Bryceson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Epigenetic landscapes can provide insight into regulation of gene expression and cellular diversity. Here, we examined the transcriptional and epigenetic profiles of seven human blood natural killer (NK) cell populations, including adaptive NK cells. The BCL11B gene, encoding a transcription factor (TF) essential for T cell development and function, was the most extensively regulated, with expression increasing throughout NK cell differentiation. Several Bcl11b-regulated genes associated with T cell signaling were specifically expressed in adaptive NK cell subsets. Regulatory networks revealed reciprocal regulation at distinct stages of NK cell differentiation, with Bcl11b repressing RUNX2 and ZBTB16 in canonical and adaptive NK cells, respectively. A critical role for Bcl11b in driving NK cell differentiation was corroborated in BCL11B-mutated patients and by ectopic Bcl11b expression. Moreover, Bcl11b was required for adaptive NK cell responses in a murine cytomegalovirus model, supporting expansion of these cells. Together, we define the TF regulatory circuitry of human NK cells and uncover a critical role for Bcl11b in promoting NK cell differentiation and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereabc9801
JournalScience Immunology
Issue number57
StatePublished - Mar 12 2021

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© 2021 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works


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