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Comparison Guide: huNOG® & huNSG™ Humanized Models

by Jody Barbeau PhD, January 26, 2018 at 06:00 PM | Tags

Cancer cell and t cell, immunotherapy immuno-oncology humanized mouse model comparison, HSC, PBMC

Cancer cell and t cell, immunotherapy immuno-oncology humanized mouse model comparison, HSC, PBMCPreviously our blog posts have reviewed humanized mice, looking at hPBMC vs hCD34+ models, how they differ, and how to select a model type to use. We briefly touched on the different types of HSC humanized mouse models, and this post goes on to look at the available model types and their different benefits in more detail.

History of Immunodeficient Mouse Models

Humanized mice are a fairly recent addition to the immuno-oncology armamentarium, compared with GEMMs or syngeneic models for example. They were only developed after many years of improvements to the immunodeficient mouse recipients which form the basis of the model.

Common Strain Name Common Abbreviation Immunological Characteristics Relative Engraftment Commercial Vendor
Solid PDX Leukemia HIS*
Athymic nude mice Nude, BALB/c nude Defective in T (function); retains B, macrophage, NK, dendritic cells + - + Multiple
C.B17-scid SCID Defective in T, B; retains NK and macrophage, dendritic activity + +/- +/- Multiple
NOD-scid NOD NOD scid Defective in T, B; highly reduced NK and macrophage, dendritic activity ++ + + Multiple
NOD.cg-Prkdcscid IL2rgtm1Sug NOG Defective in T, B, and NK cells; defects in innate immune cell development; lacks IL2rg# intracytoplasmic domain; cytokine binding but no signaling +++ ++ +++ Taconic Biosciences (CIEA NOG mouse)
NOD.Cg-Prkdcscid IL2rgtm1Wjl NSG Defective in T, B, and NK cells; defects in innate immune cell development; IL2rg null mutation; no cytokine binding or signaling +++ ++ +++ The Jackson Laboratory

Note: *HIS: Human immune system; #IL-2 receptor common gamma chain

The first mouse used to transplant human cells was the athymic nude mouse, discovered in the 1960s. Nude mice have a mutation in the Foxn1 gene, which causes a deteriorated or absent thymus, and results in a greatly reduced number of T cells.

While human cells can be engrafted, and a number of human cancer cell lines have been established in nude mice, the few remaining T cells and residual immune system (e.g. full natural killer cell functions) limit the use of the model.

C.B17-Scid Allows Partial Human Immune System Complementation

Next came the C.B17-scid mouse in the 1980s. Featuring a spontaneous mutation in the Prkdcscid gene, SCID mice have severely impaired V(D)J recombination resulting in the immune system failing to mature, and both T and B cells not being produced.

This allows human immune system transplantation (through routes including using HSC) and repopulation to a certain extent– the level of engraftment in these mice is not optimal with the number of human immune cells which proliferated being very low. The human immune system functionality is also limited, while mouse NK cells are still functional. The SCID mouse is also “leaky” - as mice age T and B cells can be spontaneously produced, therefore, improved models were still needed.

NOD scid Mice Developed to Reduce NK Cell Activity

To overcome SCID limitations, the mice were crossed with a newly developed inbred strain, the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse. The NOD was developed as a type 1 diabetes model, spontaneously developing the disease due to insulitis, but also having defective NK cell activity, a lack of circulating complement, and differentiation and functional deficits in macrophages and antigen presenting cells (APCs).

Crossing the NOD and SCID mice produced the NOD scid, defective in both T and B cell functions, as well as having an increased deficiency in macrophage function, complement-dependent hemolytic activity, and NK activity. Engraftment levels of human cells in the NOD scid were reported to be 5-10 fold higher than in the parental SCID mouse.

This mouse strain became the gold standard model for human immune cell engraftment for many years; however it did still have limitations. Some NK cell activity remained, as did the ‘leakiness’ of the SCID mice with B/T cell production with age. Survival time of the mouse was also reduced, limiting long term studies.

Fundamental Breakthrough with IL-2 Receptor Gamma Chain Mutated Models

The major breakthrough in developing highly immunodeficient models which could support the long term engraftment of large numbers of human immune cells, came as recently as 2002, when the NOG mouse was developed.

This takes the NOD scid and adds a targeted mutation to the IL-2 receptor gamma (IL2rg) chain, which was known to be a critical component of high-affinity receptors for a range of cytokines, which themselves are needed for T, B, and NK cell development. The resulting mice lack the IL2rg cytoplasmic domain and certain immune cells and functions.

NOG Mouse Shows Long Term Stable Engraftment and Hematopoiesis

The NOG mouse lacks mature T, B, and NK cells, displays reduced complement activity, as well as having dysfunctional macrophages and dendritic cells, creating an ideal model for human immune cell engraftment.

Transplanting human CD34+ HSCs results in the huNOG mouse with stable multiple cell lineages within 12-16 weeks, human lymphocytes present in peripheral blood, bone marrow, thymus and spleen, and a long term model, with stable engraftment and hematopoiesis for one year or more.

NSG Mouse Also Provides Highly Immunodeficient Mouse Model

Further variations on IL2rg mutations were then developed. The NSG mouse has a complete null allele for the IL2rg chain, and similarly to the NOG lacks mature T, B, and NK cells, lacks complement activity, and has defective macrophages and dendritic cells.

The humanized NSG (huNSG) following HSC engraftment develops a functional human immune system including T cells, dendritic cells, and monocytes, and displays robust T cell maturation and T cell dependent inflammatory responses. B cells also develop, but they are poorly functioning with weak antibody antigen specific generation in response to a very strong stimulus, and show no reproducible class switching.

Next Generation Mouse Models for Improved Myeloid Reconstitution

While the NOG and NSG mice are highly useful models for humanization, they do still show poor levels of recapitulation of myeloid lineages and NK cells. A variety of next generation super immunodeficient models (huNOG-EXL and huNSG-SGM3) have now been developed expressing cytokines to drive myeloid cell lineage commitment which are compared (along with NOD scid and the parental NOG and NSG in the table below) in the table below. These models also show more efficient engraftment or repopulation of immune cells compared with the parental models.

Common Strain Names
NOD scid
• More immunodeficient than nude
• NOD background:
- reduced complement activity
- reduced dendritic cell function
- defective macrophages
scid (Prkdc) mutation prevents
development of mature T and B cells
• Sufficiently immunodeficient to engraft some hematological cancer cell lines
• Frequent occurrence of thymic lymphoma
• Leakiness in T and B cell
development in aged mice
Murine Immunity
• Based on the NOD scid
• Lack of NK cells due to additional “gamma” (IL2rgtm1Wjl) mutation which
- blocks signaling from 6 interleukins (IL-2,-4,-7,-9,-15,-21)
- further reduces function of innate immune system and enhances
effect of scid mutation
• Based on the NSG mouse, lack of murine immunity
• Additionally carries the IL-3, GM-CSF, and SF
transgenes for human cytokine expression under CMV promoter
Human Immunity
• Good engraftment of
B (CD19+), T (MHC-restricted CD4+ and CD8+) cells
• Myeloid compartment present
(monocytes, macrophages, and
dendritic cells)
• No human cytokine expression
• Faster and more efficient repopulation of
CD4+ and CD8+ cells. Increased Treg engraftment compared with NSG
• Increased CD19+ population
compared with NSG
• Higher engraftment compared with NSG of monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells
• KITL (SCF), IL3, GM-CSF cytokine expression
Murine Immunity
• Based on the NOD scid
• Lack of NK cells due to additional “gamma” (Il2rgtm1Sug) mutation which
- blocks signaling from 6 interleukins (IL-2,-4,-7,-9,-15,-21)
- further reduces function of innate immune system and enhances
effect of scid mutation
• Based on the NOG mouse
• 3 fold increase of myeloid cells over NOG
• Additionally carries the IL-3 and GM-CSF
(CSF2) transgenes for human cytokine expression under SV40 promoter
Human Immunity
• Stably develops multiple cell lineages
by 12-16 weeks post-injection when engrafted with human CD34+
hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs)
• Human lymphocytes present in
peripheral blood, bone marrow, thymus, and spleen
• More efficient human HSC engraftment compared with NOG
• Higher levels of myeloid cell differentiation following human HSC engraftment
compared with NOG
• Relatively low human IL-3 and GM-CSF
(CSF2) cytokine expression to prevent HSC exhaustion and support long term stability of

Humanized mouse models have come a long way since the 1960s, and now able to support long term humanization essential for the studies now required to drive forward immunotherapy development.


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