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Int J Parasitol. 2004 Dec;34(13-14):1517-28.

Natural killer cells and innate immunity to protozoan pathogens.

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Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK.


Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphoid cells that mediate significant cytotoxic activity and produce high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to infection. During viral infection, NK cell cytotoxicity and cytokine production is induced principally by monocyte-macrophage- and dendritic cell-derived cytokines but virally encoded ligands for NK cells are also beginning to be described. NK derived interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) production is also essential for control of several protozoal infections including toxoplasmosis, trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis and malaria. The activation of NK cells by protozoan pathogens is also believed to be cytokine-mediated although some recent studies suggest that direct recognition of parasites by NK cells also occurs. Both indirect signalling via accessory cell-derived cytokines and direct signalling, presumably through NK receptors, are needed in order for human malaria parasites (Plasmodium falciparum) to optimally stimulate NK activity.

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