The IFN inducer, poly(I:C), elicits acute NK cell blastogenesis and proliferation in vivo. The role of IL-2 in mediating this proliferation was investigated in the studies presented here. Blast NK cells were isolated from poly(I:C)-treated, T cell-deficient athymic mice. Dividing cells, incorporating [3H]thymidine, were enriched in the J11d- low density populations isolated from poly(I:C)-treated mice, and were characterized as NK by the following criteria: (a) they were eliminated by treatment with anti-AGM1 in vivo; and (b) they directly mediated lysis of NK-sensitive target cells in a single cell cytotoxicity assay with autoradiography. These poly(I:C)-induced blast NK cells were responsive to IL-2, but, when compared with in vivo activated T cells, responsiveness required 1,000-fold higher concentrations of the factor. The technique of in situ hybridization was used to evaluate induction of IL-2 gene expression after poly(I:C) treatment in vivo. Treatment of euthymic, athymic, and severe combined immunodeficient mice with poly(I:C) activated IL-2 gene expression in a small percentage of spleen leukocytes. The transcription-positive cells were enriched in low density cell populations. These findings demonstrate that IL-2 transcription occurs after IFN induction in vivo, and suggest that an endogenous source of IL-2 exists other than the mature T cell. To assess the IL-2 dependence of in vivo NK cell expansion, poly(I:C)-treated athymic mice were given cyclosporin A (CsA), an agent that regulates IL-2 production at the level of gene transcription. The drug resulted in an 85-100% reduction in the percentages of cells transcribing IL-2. In contrast, CsA administration did not block IFN-enhanced NK cell cytolytic activity, expansion of large granular lymphocyte numbers, or NK cell proliferation. These findings demonstrate that although the proliferation of blast NK cells can be supported by IL-2, IL-2 is not an important mediator of IFN-induced NK cell expansion. Moreover, they establish that the acute proliferation of NK cells in response to IFNs is CsA insensitive.

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