The sensitivity of human natural killer (NK) cell activities (both binding and killing) after exposure of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to different doses of gamma radiation was studied. A panel of monoclonal antibodies was used to identify the NK and T-lymphocyte subsets and to evaluate their radiosensitivity. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were irradiated with low (2-6 Gy) and high (10-30 Gy) doses and NK cell binding and cytotoxic activity against K562 target cells were studied after 3 h and 48 h in culture. The primary damage to NK cell activity was identified at the postbinding level and affected mainly the lytic machinery. After 48 h culture postirradiation, an overall depression of cytotoxic activity was observed, but ionizing radiation produced either a selection of the more cytotoxic NK cell subsets, which therefore might be considered more resistant to radiation damage than the less cytotoxic NK cells, or a long-term stimulation of cytotoxic activity in surviving cells.
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