Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Kimberly S. Schluns, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dean A. Lee, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy J. Poindexter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen E. Ullrich, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dapeng Zhou, M.D., Ph.D.


The immuno-regulatory functions displayed by NK and iNKT cells have highlighted their importance as key lymphocytes involved in innate and adaptive immunity. Therefore, understanding the dynamics influencing the generation of NK and iNKT cells is extremely important. IL-15 has been shown to provide a critical signal throughout the development and homeostasis of NK and iNKT cells; however, the cellular source of IL-15 has remained unclear. In this investigation, I provide evidence that the cell-type providing IL-15 to NK and iNKT cells via trans-presentation is determined by the tissue site and the maturation status of NK and iNKT cells. For NK cells, I revealed the non-hematopoietic compartment provides IL-15 to NK cells in the early stages of development while hematopoietic cells were crucial for the generation and maintenance of mature NK cells. Regarding iNKT cells in the thymus, IL-15 trans-presentation by non-hematopoietic cells was crucial for the survival of mature iNKT cells. In the liver, both hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic compartments provided IL-15 to both immature and mature iNKT cells. This IL-15 signal helped mediate the survival and proliferation of both NK and iNKT cells as well as induce the functional maturation of mature iNKT cells via enhanced T-bet expression. In conclusion, my work illustrates an important notion that the immunological niche of NK and iNKT cells is tightly regulated and that this regulation is meticulously influenced by the tissue microenvironment.


Immunology, cytokines, NK cells, iNKT cells, development, homeostasis