The spontaneous natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cytotoxicity of highly purified CD56+CD3- NK cells (90 to 95%) against NK-sensitive and NK-insensitive target cells was drastically enhanced when a rhamnogalacturonan contained in a commercially available Viscum album extract was present during 4-h cytotoxicity assays. This enhancement correlated strictly with an increased formation of NK cell or LAK cell/tumor cell conjugate formation. Information on the chemical specificity of NK cell and LAK cell interaction with target cells and with the rhamnogalacturonan was obtained from inhibition studies. The most efficient inhibitors (100% inhibition at 5 mg/ml) were acetylated d-mannose and acetylated l-mannonic acid γ-lactone. They specifically inhibited in a dose-dependent manner: (a) the cytotoxicity of NK cells against K562 cells and the formation of NK cell/K562 cell conjugates; (b) the cytotoxicity of LAK cells against K562 cells and Daudi cells as well as the formation of LAK cell/K562 cell and of LAK cell/Daudi cell conjugates; and (c) the synergistic effects of the rhamnogalacturonan in the cytotoxicity assays and the target cell-conjugate formation assays with NK cells and LAK cells. The inhibitory effects observed after pretreatment of NK cells or LAK cells with acetylated mannose were completely reversible, but that obtained with acetylated mannonic acid γ-lactone was only partly reversible, and the degree of reversibility depended on the inhibitor concentration applied during pretreatment. Nonacetylated mannose or mannose derivatives up to concentrations of 20 mmol showed no inhibitory effects. A mechanistic model representing the interaction of NK cells and LAK cells with target cells and with rhamnogalacturonan is proposed.

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