Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Zavazava, Nicholas

First Committee Member

Dailey, Morris

Second Committee Member

Colgan, John

Third Committee Member

Weiss, Jerrold

Fourth Committee Member

Xue, Hai-Hui


Embryonic stem (ES) cells possess the remarkable ability to form cells and tissues from all three germ layers, a characteristic known as pluripotency. In particular, the generation of ES cell-derived hematopoietic cells could serve as an alternate source of hematopoietic stem cells for transplantation in place of bone marrow cells, which are limited by donor availability and high immunogenicity. The advantages of ES cell-derived hematopoietic cells over bone marrow cells include a greater proliferative capacity, which alleviates the problems of donor shortage, and low level expression of MHC antigens, which suggests immune privilege. However, it is unclear whether the immune system is capable of recognizing and rejecting ES cell-derived hematopoietic cells following transplantation. The observation that ES cell-derivatives express low levels of MHC class I, the predominant inhibitory ligand for NK cells, led us to hypothesize that ES cell-derived hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) are susceptible to NK cell-mediated killing.

To test this hypothesis, we first generated HPCs from murine ES cells ectopically expressing HOXB4, a homeobox transcription factor that confers hematopoietic self-renewal, and confirmed that HPCs expressed low levels of MHC class I antigens. To specifically investigate the role of NK cells in regulating the in vivo engraftment of HPCs, we transplanted NK-replete Rag2-/- or NK-deficient Rag2-/-γc-/- mice with HPCs. We observed permanent HPC engraftment in Rag2-/-γc-/- mice; however, HPC engraftment was significantly reduced in Rag2-/- mice and was eventually eliminated over time. Bone marrow harvested from these animals showed that HPC-derived Lin-c-kit+ and Lin-Sca-1+ progenitor cells, critical progenitor cells for long-term hematopoietic engraftment, were deleted in Rag2-/- but not in Rag2-/-γc-/- mice.

Next, we focused on the mechanism of NK cell activation by HPCs. Increased expression of the cytotoxic proteins Granzyme B and Perforin in the NK cells of HPC-transplanted Rag2-/- mice confirmed in vivo NK cell activation. Phenotypic analysis of HPCs revealed high level expression of H60, a ligand of the NK activating receptor NKG2D, and neutralization of H60 rescued HPCs from NK cell-mediated killing.

Altogether, our results demonstrate that NK cells are a major barrier to the successful engraftment of ES cell-derived hematopoietic cells, underlining an important role of the innate immune system in regulating the long-term engraftment of ES cell derivatives.


Embryonic Stem Cell, H60, Hematopoietic Progenitor Cell, HOXB4, NK cell


ix, 112 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 98-112).


Copyright 2011 William Tabayoyong