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Natural killer (NK) cells are a subset of lymphocytes crucial for innate immunity and modification of adaptive immune responses. In contrast to commitment to the T cell or B cell lineage, little is known about NK cell lineage commitment. Here we show that the basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factor E4BP4 (also called NFIL3) is essential for generation of the NK cell lineage. E4BP4-deficient mice (Nfil3(-/-); called 'E4bp4(-/-)' here) had B cells, T cells and NKT cells but specifically lack NK cells and showed severely impaired NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity. Overexpression of E4bp4 was sufficient to increase NK cell production from hematopoietic progenitor cells. E4BP4 acted in a cell-intrinsic manner 'downstream' of the interleukin 15 receptor (IL-15R) and through the transcription factor Id2. E4bp4(-/-) mice may provide a model for definitive analysis of the contribution of NK cells to immune responses and pathologies.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Immunol

Publication Date





1118 - 1124


Animals, B-Lymphocytes, Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors, Cell Differentiation, Cell Lineage, Cytotoxicity, Immunologic, Flow Cytometry, Gene Expression, Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 2, Killer Cells, Natural, Lymphocyte Subsets, Mice, Mice, Knockout, Natural Killer T-Cells, Receptors, Interleukin-15, Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction, T-Lymphocytes