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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2003 Oct;60(10):2139-46.

Surface receptors and functional interactions of human natural killer cells: from bench to the clinic.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Sperimentale, Università degli Studi di Genova, Via L. B. Alberti 2, 16132 Genova, Italy.


The past 10years have witnessed dramatic progress in our understanding of how natural killer (NK) cells function and their role in innate immunity. Thanks to an array of inhibitory receptors specific for different HLA class I molecules, human NK cells can sense the decrease or loss of even single alleles at the cell surface. This represents a typical condition of a potential danger, i.e. the presence of tumor or virally infected cells. NK cell triggering and lysis of these cells is mediated by several activating receptors and coreceptors that have recently been identified and cloned. While normal cells are usually resistant to NK-mediated attack, a remarkable exception is represented by dendritic cells (DCs). In their immature form they are susceptible to NK-mediated lysis because of the expression of low levels of surface HLA class I molecules. The process of DC maturation (mDCs) is characterized by the surface expression of high levels of HLA class I molecules. Accordingly, mDCs become resistant to NK cells. A recent major breakthrough highlighted the role played by donor NK cells in allogenic bone marrow transplantation to cure acute myeloid leukemias. 'Alloreactive' NK cells derived from donor hematopoietic precursors not only prevented leukemic relapses, but also prevented graft rejection and graft-versus-host disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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