MHC class I (MHC I) expression in the host influences NK cells in a process termed education. The result of this education is reflected in the responsiveness of NK cells at the level of individual cells as well as in the repertoire of inhibitory MHC I‒specific receptors at the NK cell system level. The presence of MHC I molecules in the host environment gives rise to a skewed receptor repertoire in spleen NK cells where subsets expressing few (one or two) inhibitory receptors are expanded whereas subsets with many (three or more) receptors are contracted. It is not known whether this MHC I‒dependent skewing is imposed during development or after maturation of NK cells. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the NK cell receptor repertoire is shaped already early during NK cell development in the bone marrow. We used mice with a repertoire imposed by a single MHC I allele, as well as a C57BL/6 mutant strain with exaggerated repertoire skewing, to investigate Ly49 receptor repertoires at different stages of NK cell differentiation. Our results show that NK cell inhibitory receptor repertoire skewing can indeed be observed in the bone marrow, even during the earliest developmental steps where Ly49 receptors are expressed. This may partly be accounted for by selective proliferation of certain NK cell subsets, but other mechanisms must also be involved. We propose a model for how repertoire skewing is established during a developmental phase in the bone marrow, based on sequential receptor expression as well as selective proliferation.
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