Background: Traditionally, the CD56dimCD16+ subset of Natural Killer (NK) cells has been thought to mediate cellular cytotoxicity with modest cytokine secretion capacity. However, studies have suggested that this subset may exert a more diverse array of immunological functions. There exists a lack of well-developed functional models to describe the behavior of activated NK cells, and the interactions between signaling pathways that facilitate effector functions are not well understood. In the present study, a combination of genome-wide microarray analyses and systems-level bioinformatics approaches were utilized to elucidate the transcriptional landscape of NK cells activated via interactions with antibody-coated targets in the presence of interleukin-12 (IL-12). Methods: We conducted differential gene expression analysis of CD56dimCD16+ NK cells following FcR stimulation in the presence or absence of IL-12. Next, we functionally characterized gene sets according to patterns of gene expression and validated representative genes using RT-PCR. IPA was utilized for biological pathway analysis, and an enriched network of interacting genes was generated using GeneMANIA. Furthermore, PAJEK and the HITS algorithm were employed to identify important genes in the network according to betweeness centrality, hub, and authority node metrics. Results: Analyses revealed that CD56dimCD16+ NK cells co-stimulated via the Fc receptor (FcR) and IL-12R led to the expression of a unique set of genes, including genes encoding cytotoxicity receptors, apoptotic proteins, intracellular signaling molecules, and cytokines that may mediate enhanced cytotoxicity and interactions with other immune cells within inflammatory tissues. Network analyses identified a novel set of connected key players, BATF, IRF4, TBX21, and IFNG, within an integrated network composed of differentially expressed genes in NK cells stimulated by various conditions (immobilized IgG, IL-12, or the combination of IgG and IL-12). Conclusions: These results are the first to address the global mechanisms by which NK cells mediate their biological functions when encountering antibody-coated targets within inflammatory sites. Moreover, this study has identified a set of high-priority targets for subsequent investigation into strategies to combat cancer by enhancing the anti-tumor activity of CD56dimCD16+ NK cells.
- Gene microarray
- NK cells