Recipient natural killer cells alter the course of rejection of allogeneic heart grafts in rats.
Rejection of solid organ grafts is regarded to be dependent on T cell responses. Nonetheless, numerous studies have focused on the contribution of NK cells in this process, resulting in contradictory theories. While some conclude that there is no participation of NK cells, others found an inflammatory or regulative role of NK cells. However, the experimental settings are rarely comparable with regard to challenged species, strain combinations or the nature of the graft. Thus, clear definition of NK cell contribution might be impeded by these circumstances. In this study we performed heterotopic heart transplantation (HTx) in rats, choosing one donor-recipient-combination leading to a fast and a second leading to a prolonged course of graft rejection. We intervened in the rejection process, by depletion of recipient NK cells on the one hand and by injection of activated NK cells syngeneic to the recipients on the other. The fast course of rejection could not be influenced by any of the NK cell manipulative treatments. However, the more prolonged course of rejection was highly susceptible to depletion of NK cells, resulting in significant acceleration of rejection, while injection of NK cells induced acceptance of the grafts. We suggest that, depending on the specific setting, NK cells can attenuate the first trigger of immune response, which allows establishing the regulatory activity leading to tolerance of the graft.