Interleukin-15 receptor alpha (IL-15R alpha) is a pleiotropically expressed molecule that chaperones and trans-presents IL-15 to NK and T cells. To investigate whether IL-15R alpha presented by different cells perform distinct physiological functions, we have generated four lines of mice lacking IL-15R alpha in various cell types. We find that IL-15R alpha expression on macrophages but not dendritic cells (DCs) supports the early transition of antigen specific effector CD8(+) T cells to memory cells. After memory CD8(+) T cell differentiation, IL-15R alpha expression on DCs selectively supports central memory CD8(+) T cells, whereas IL-15R alpha expression on macrophages supports both central and effector memory CD8(+) T cells. By contrast, mice lacking IL-15R alpha on macrophages, DCs, or both, exhibit equivalent defects in NK cell homeostasis and activation. These studies define unique roles for macrophage expression of IL-15R alpha and show that NK cells rely upon distinct IL-15R alpha dependent IL-15 signals than memory CD8(+) T cells. Moreover, they demonstrate the diversity, specification, and geographic restriction of cytokine signals.
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