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Autoimmunity. 2004 Mar;37(2):147-53.

The role of NK cells and NK cell receptors in autoimmune disease.

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Department of Immunology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cells are the first line of defense against infection and transformation. Additionally, NK cells can play seemingly opposite roles in autoimmune disease. Here, we summarize the functions of NK cells as both regulators and inducers of autoimmune disease. The role NK cells play depends on which cells become targets for NK cell attack. The activity of NK cells is controlled by inhibitory receptors specific for MHC Class I molecules, and by activating receptors with diverse specificities. The ligands for both activating and inhibitory receptors are present on potential target cells. It is the balance in expression of these different ligands that determines NK cell activation and therefore whether the cell becomes a target for NK cell-mediated killing. We further discuss the roles of NK cell receptors and their ligands in autoimmune disease.

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