Highly purified populations of large granular lymphocytes (LGL) have been shown to mediate natural killer (NK) cell activity. The mechanism of target cell killing by NK cells is as yet undefined; however, it has been postulated that such killing may involve soluble cytotoxic factors produced and secreted by NK cells. The data presented show that NK-sensitive, but not NK-resistant, tumor cell lines induce highly purified populations of human LGL to produce factors with cytotoxic and/or cytostatic activities. We have identified one of these factors as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and have shown that production of this factor is enhanced by recombinant human interferon-gamma (rHuIFN-gamma). We have also examined the role of TNF-alpha in the cytotoxic function of NK cells. The data show that although highly purified LGL populations produce low levels of TNF-alpha, the cytotoxic/cytostatic activity of this lymphokine on tumor target cells does not correlate with the cytotoxic activity of highly purified populations of LGL on tumor target cells. Furthermore, NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity is not reliably inhibited by antibodies directed against various epitopes of recombinant human TNF-alpha and/or recombinant TNF-beta (lymphotoxin) or rHuIFN-gamma. These data show that although TNF-alpha is produced by highly purified NK-containing LGL cell populations, this factor does not appear to be responsible for NK cell cytotoxicity against classical NK target cells such as Molt-4 or K562. We suggest that NK function can be attributed to a combination of factors rather than to a single factor alone, and that at least two major phenomena are involved in LGL function: the rapid cytotoxic events which lead to the cell lysis measured in classical in vitro NK assays such as against K562; and the release of factors such as TNF-alpha with cytotoxic/cytostatic activities which would inhibit the growth of invading tumor cells in vivo.

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