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Natural killer (NK) cells are cytotoxic innate lymphocytes that provide defense against pathogens and malignancy. New evidence identified that NK cells are capable of memory-like immune responses in certain settings. This innate immune memory is thought to be imprinted through epigenetic modifications. However, precise epigenic pathways or strategies to modulate long-term NK cell activity are not well defined. In this study, we performed a screen of an epigenetic library containing 160 drug compounds with well-characterized epigenetic regulatory mechanisms, to identify drugs and pathways that could train or tolerize NK cell activation. One compound that we identified was the H3K27 methyltransferase Ezh2, which regulated NK cell lineage commitment from bone marrow hematopoietic stem cells and altered the phenotype of differentiated NK cells to increased cytotoxicity. This outcome provides an option to train or induce stronger cytotoxic effects on NK cells. In contrast, another compound we identified was the histone deacetylase inhibitor, Givinostat, which did not alter NK cell commitment from bone marrow stem cells, but significantly decreased NK cell function in the periphery resulting in a more tolerant innate immune state to secondary NK cell stimulation. Identification and exploration of these epigenome altering drugs may offer further insight into downstream pathways of NK cell function or provide novel therapies for tolerizing or priming innate immune responses.

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Epigenetic drug screen of natural killer cells identified compounds controlling immune training and tolerance