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EMBO Rep. 2009 Oct;10(10):1103-10. doi: 10.1038/embor.2009.203. Epub 2009 Sep 4.

Hidden talents of natural killers: NK cells in innate and adaptive immunity.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Division of Rheumatology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cells are innate immune lymphocytes capable of killing target cells and producing immunoregulatory cytokines. Herein, we discuss recent studies that indicate that NK cells span the conventional boundaries between innate and adaptive immunity. For example, it was recently discovered that NK cells have the capacity for memory-like responses, a property that was previously thought to be limited to adaptive immunity. NK cells have also been identified in multiple tissues, and a subset of cells that specialize in the production of the T(H)17 cytokine IL-22, NK-22s, was recently described in mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue. Finally, we review work that shows that NK cells develop at sites that were traditionally thought to be occupied only by adaptive immune cells, including the thymus and lymph nodes.

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