The role of MAPK during the activation of NK cells

Tse-Kuan Yu, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Although many clinical trials investigated the use of IL-2, IL-12, and LAK in adoptive immunotherapy to treat cancer, only limited clinical success has been achieved. Better understanding of the intracellular processes that IL-2 and IL-12 utilize to generate LAK and other functions in NK cells is necessary to improve this mode of therapy. IL-2 and IL-12 stimulate extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK) and p38 MAPK in mitogen-activated T lymphocytes. The functional roles that these kinases play are still unclear. In this study, we examined whether MAPK Kinase (MKK)/ERK and/or p38 MAPK pathways are necessary for IL-2 or IL-12 to activate NK cells. We established that IL-2 activates MKK1/2/ERK pathway in freshly isolated human NK cells without any prior stimulation. Furthermore, we determined that an intact MKK/ERK pathway is necessary for IL-2 to activate NK cells to express at least four known biological responses: LAK activity, IFN-γ secretion, and CD25 and CD69 expression. Treatment of NK cells with a specific inhibitor of MKK1/2 PD98059, during the IL-2 stimulation blocked in a dose-dependent manner each of four activation parameters. Although activation of ERK was not detected in NK cells immediately after IL-12 stimulation, IL-12-induced functional activation was inhibited by the MKK1/2 inhibitor, as well. In contrast to what was observed by others in T lymphocytes, activation of p38 MAPK by IL-2 was not detected in NK cells. Additionally, a specific inhibitor of p38 MAPK (SB203850) did not inhibit IL-2-activated NK functions. These data reveal selective signaling differences between NK cells and T lymphocytes. Collectively, the data support that the MKK/ERK pathway plays a critical positive regulatory role in NK cells during activation by IL-2 and IL-12.

Subject Area

Cellular biology|Molecular biology|Immunology

Recommended Citation

Yu, Tse-Kuan, "The role of MAPK during the activation of NK cells" (2000). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9976291.