Type beta transforming growth factor (TGF-beta) is a unique polypeptide that has been isolated from a number of different tissues and can induce the phenotypic transformation of non-neoplastic fibroblasts as measured by the stimulation of their growth in soft agar. Recently, TGF-beta has been demonstrated to exert profound inhibitory effects on T and B lymphocyte proliferation. In this study, the effects of TGF-beta on natural killer (NK) cell function were investigated. After 20 hr of culture in the presence of TGF-beta, the NK activity of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) was significantly reduced compared with PBL cultured in medium alone. Similarly, TGF-beta produced a significant depression in the cytolytic activity of highly enriched large granular lymphocytes (LGL). This effect of TGF-beta appeared to be mediated directly on the effector cells, because cultivation of the K562 target cells in TGF-beta did not affect target cell susceptibility to lysis. Binding studies with 125I-TGF-beta indicated that LGL possess approximately 1400 high-affinity (Kd = 1PM) receptors/cell, which represents a considerably higher affinity receptor for TGF-beta than that found on fibroblasts. Culturing of PBL and LGL in TGF-beta resulted in a marked blunting of the boosting of NK cytolysis by interferon-alpha but not by interleukin 2, which suggested that TGF-beta may down-regulate interferon-alpha receptors on NK cells. These results, indicate that in addition to inhibitory effects on T and B cells, TGF-beta also inhibits NK cell function. Although the in vivo role of TGF-beta is presently undefined, it may be an important immunoregulatory protein that has a negative influence on lymphocyte activation.

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