Bench-to-bedside review: Natural killer cells in sepsis - guilty or not guilty?
Gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) is an important mediator of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS])-induced immune responses. However, the specific cell types that produce IFN-gamma in response to LPS and the cellular factors that regulate LPS-induced IFN-gamma production have not been fully determined. The present studies were undertaken to characterize the cell populations that produce IFN-gamma after LPS challenge in the spleens of mice and to determine the regulatory factors that modulate LPS-induced production of IFN-gamma. Our studies show that the levels of splenic IFN-gamma mRNA and protein production peak at 6 and 8 h, respectively, after systemic LPS challenge. Approximately 60% of IFN-gamma-producing cells are natural killer (NK) cells (CD3(-)DX5(+)) and 25% are NKT cells (CD3(+)DX5(+)). Most of the remaining IFN-gamma-producing cells are T cells (CD3(+)DX5(-)), macrophages, and dendritic cells. Functionally, interleukin-12 (IL-12) is the major IFN-gamma-stimulating factor after LPS challenge, with costimulation provided by IL-15, IL-18, and B7 proteins. IL-10 is a major inhibitor of LPS-induced IFN-gamma production. Unlike intact heat-killed gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, the class II major histocompatibility complex did not play a functional role in LPS-induced IFN-gamma production. LPS is a potent stimulus for splenic IL-10, IL-12 p40, and IL-15 mRNA expression, whereas IL-12 p35 and IL-18 mRNAs, as well as B7 proteins, are constitutively expressed in the mouse spleen. Of the factors studied, IL-18 serves as the most potent costimulus with IL-12 for IFN-gamma production, followed by IL-15 and B7 proteins. These data demonstrate that NK cells and NKT cells are the most abundant IFN-gamma-producing cells in the mouse spleen after LPS challenge and that IL-10 and IL-12 are key functional regulators of LPS-induced IFN-gamma production.