The Who What Why and How of NK cells

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:   More info on NK cells. Ask your doctor to test their function in lytic units to assess how “fit” your immune system is.


The Journal of Immunology, 2007, 178: 4011-4016.
Copyright © 2007 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.

NK Cells and Cancer1

Loris Zamai2,*,” ,§, Cristina Ponti, Prisco Mirandola||, Giuliana Gobbi||, Stefano Papa” ,”¡, Laura Galeotti*,” , Lucio Cocco# and Marco Vitale2,||

* Institute of Histology and Laboratory Analysis, ”  Flow Cytometry and Cytomorphology Center, ”¡ Institute of Morphological Sciences, University of Urbino, Urbino, Italy; § Instituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare Gran Sasso National Laboratory, L’Aquila, Italy; Department of Normal Human Morphology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy; || Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Forensic Medicine, University Hospital, University of Parma, Parma, Italy; and # Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy


In this review, we overview the main features and functions of NK cells, focusing on their role in cell-mediated immune response to tumor cells. In parallel, we discuss the information available in the field of NK cell receptors and offer a wide general overview of functional aspects of cell targeting and killing, focusing on the recent acknowledgments on the efficacy of NK cells after cytokine and mAb administration in cancer therapy. Since efficacy of NK cell-based immunotherapy has been proven in KIR-mismatch regimens or in TRAIL-dependent apoptosis, the ability to manipulate the balance of activating and inhibitory receptors on NK cells and of their cognate ligands, as well as the sensitivity of tumor cells to apoptosis, opens new perspectives for NK cell-based immunotherapy.


Natural killer cells have been initially identified as a lymphoid population representing the 10-20% of PBMC, able to lyse MHC class I (MHC-I)3-negative tumor and virus-infected cells and to orchestrate innate immunity of the organism. The majority of NK cells is localized in peripheral blood, lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow (1) but can be induced to migrate toward inflammation sites by different chemoattractants (2). NK cells constitutively express a lytic machinery able to kill target cells independently from any previous activation. These functional features have suggested since the time of their identification a role for NK cells in the control of tumor growth and metastasis diffusion in vivo.

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