In addition to lytic activity against malignant and virally transformed target cells, recent evidence has suggested that natural killer (NK) cells can modulate immune activities such as the suppression of B cell responses through noncytotoxic means. Using human B cells and highly purified autologous NK cells, we have demonstrated that NK cells can substantially augment the proliferative responses of B cells stimulated with the surface immunoglobulin crosslinking agents anti-IgM or Slaphylococcus aureus Cowan strain I (SAC). This "enhancer" activity of NK cells was quite potent and was observed at an NK:B cell ratio as low as 0.05. Peak blastogenic responses of B cells cocultured with NK cells in the presence of B cell activators were observed at 2-3 days, similar to the responses of B cells in the absence of NK cells. Using the inhibitor of DNA synthesis mitomycin C, we determined that B cells and not NK cells were proliferating in cocultures of these lymphocytes stimulated with SAC. Activated B cells neither prevented the lysis of the isotope-labeled NK-sensitive target cell line K562 nor formed conjugates with NK cells, suggesting that cell contact was not a prerequisite for the effect. These studies have further expanded the functional repertoire of NK cells to include enhancer as well as suppressor and lytic activities.
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