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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Dec 21;96(26):15062-7.

The human natural killer cell immune synapse.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Harvard University, 7 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02143, USA.


Inhibitory killer Ig-like receptors (KIR) at the surface of natural killer (NK) cells induced clustering of HLA-C at the contacting surface of target cells. In this manner, inhibitory immune synapses were formed as human NK cells surveyed target cells. At target/NK cell synapses, HLA-C/KIR distributed into rings around central patches of intercellular adhesion molecule-1/lymphocyte function-associated antigen-1, the opposite orientation to mature murine T cell-activating synapses. This organization of protein was stable for at least 20 min. Cells could support multiple synapses simultaneously, and clusters of HLA-C moved as NK cells crawled over target cells. Clustering required a divalent metal cation, explaining how metal chelators inhibit KIR function. Surprisingly, however, formation of inhibitory synapses was unaffected by ATP depletion and the cytoskeletal inhibitors, colchicine and cytochalsins B and D. Clearly, supramolecular organization within plasma membranes is critical for NK cell immunosurveillance.

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