Signaling in Natural Immunity Natural Killer Cells

LAURA N. ARNESON and PAUL J. LEIBSON

Department of Immunology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA ABSTRACT

Natural killer (NK) cells are large granular lymphocytes noted both for their cytotoxic role in innate immunity and for their linking of the innate immune system to the adaptive immune system through cytokine secretion. In both of these roles, NK cells make use of their ability to recognize tumour- and virus-associated ligands. These cells are identified by their phenotype: NK cells express CD 16, the low-affinity Fc receptor (FcR) for IgG, but NK cells do not express T cell antigen receptors or the B cell-associated surface immunoglobulin (slg).

Unlike T cells or B cells, NK cells do not have a single type of receptor through which they recognize antigens. Rather, clonal subpopulations of NK cells differ in their expression of receptors that recognize a variety of ligands on target cells throughout the body. NK cell binding of these ligands initiates signaling cascades within the NK cell that control its response to the target. Thus, understanding these receptors, their signals, and the interactions of the signaling pathways is key to understanding NK cell function.

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