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Nat Immunol. 2012 Oct;13(10):1000-9. doi: 10.1038/ni.2395. Epub 2012 Aug 19.

Molecular definition of the identity and activation of natural killer cells.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Cancer Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.


Using whole-genome microarray data sets of the Immunological Genome Project, we demonstrate a closer transcriptional relationship between NK cells and T cells than between any other leukocytes, distinguished by their shared expression of genes encoding molecules with similar signaling functions. Whereas resting NK cells are known to share expression of a few genes with cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells, our transcriptome-wide analysis demonstrates that the commonalities extend to hundreds of genes, many encoding molecules with unknown functions. Resting NK cells demonstrate a 'preprimed' state compared with naive T cells, which allows NK cells to respond more rapidly to viral infection. Collectively, our data provide a global context for known and previously unknown molecular aspects of NK cell identity and function by delineating the genome-wide repertoire of gene expression of NK cells in various states.

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