Interleukin 15 is essential for the development and differentiation of NK and memory CD8 (mCD8) T cells. Our laboratory previously showed that NK and CD8 T lymphocytes facilitate the pathobiology of septic shock. However, factors that regulate NK and CD8 T lymphocyte functions during sepsis are not well characterized. We hypothesized that IL-15 promotes the pathogenesis of sepsis by maintaining NK and mCD8 T cell integrity. To test our hypothesis, the pathogenesis of sepsis was assessed in IL-15-deficient (IL-15 knockout, KO) mice. IL-15 KO mice showed improved survival, attenuated hypothermia, and less proinflammatory cytokine production during septic shock caused by cecal ligation and puncture or endotoxin-induced shock. Treatment with IL-15 superagonist (IL-15 SA, IL-15/IL-15Rα complex) regenerated NK and mCD8 T cells and re-established mortality of IL-15 KO mice during septic shock. Preventing NK cell regeneration attenuated the restoration of mortality caused by IL-15 SA. If given immediately prior to septic challenge, IL-15-neutralizing IgG M96 failed to protect against septic shock. However, M96 caused NK cell depletion if given 4 d prior to septic challenge and conferred protection. IL-15 SA treatment amplified endotoxin shock, which was prevented by NK cell or IFN-γ depletion. IL-15 SA treatment also exacerbated septic shock caused by cecal ligation and puncture when given after the onset of sepsis. In conclusion, endogenous IL-15 does not directly augment the pathogenesis of sepsis but enables the development of septic shock by maintaining NK cell numbers and integrity. Exogenous IL-15 exacerbates the severity of sepsis by activating NK cells and facilitating IFN-γ production.
Copyright © 2017 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.