Analysis of sphingosine kinase activity in single natural killer cells from peripheral blood†
Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P), a lipid second messenger formed upon phosphorylation of sphingosine by sphingosine kinase (SK), plays a crucial role in natural killer (NK) cell proliferation, migration, and cytotoxicity. Dysregulation of the S1P pathway has been linked to a number of immune system disorders and therapeutic manipulation of the pathway has been proposed as a method of disease intervention. However, peripheral blood NK cells, as identified by surface markers (CD56+CD45+CD3−CD16) consist of a highly diverse population with distinct phenotypes and functions and it is unknown whether the S1P pathway is similarly diverse across peripheral blood NK cells. In this work, we measured the phosphorylation of sphingosine–fluorescein (SF) and subsequent metabolism of S1P fluorescein (S1PF) to form hexadecanoic acid fluorescein (HAF) in 111 single NK cells obtained from the peripheral blood of four healthy human subjects. The percentage of SF converted to S1PF or HAF was highly variable amongst the cells ranging from 0% to 100% (S1PF) and 0% to 97% (HAF). Subpopulations of cells with varying levels of S1PF formation and metabolism were readily identified. Across all subjects, the average percentage of SF converted to S1PF or HAF was 37 ± 36% and 12 ± 19%, respectively. NK cell metabolism of SF by the different subjects was also distinct with hierarchical clustering suggesting two possible phenotypes: low (<20%) or high (>50%) producers of S1PF. The heterogeneity of SK and downstream enzyme activity in NK cells may enable NK cells to respond effectively to a diverse array of pathogens as well as incipient tumor cells. NK cells from two subjects were also loaded with S1PF to assess the activity of S1P phosphatase (S1PP), which converts S1P to sphingosine. No NK cells (n = 41) formed sphingosine, suggesting that S1PP was minimally active in peripheral blood NK cells. In contrast to the SK activity, S1PP activity was homogeneous across the peripheral blood NK cells, suggesting a bias in the SK pathway towards proliferation and migration, activities supported by S1P.