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Blood. 2010 Nov 11;116(19):3853-64. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-04-281675. Epub 2010 Aug 9.

Expression patterns of NKG2A, KIR, and CD57 define a process of CD56dim NK-cell differentiation uncoupled from NK-cell education.

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Center for Infectious Medicine, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge, Stockholm, Sweden.


Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes of the innate immune system that, following differentiation from CD56(bright) to CD56(dim) cells, have been thought to retain fixed functional and phenotypic properties throughout their lifespan. In contrast to this notion, we here show that CD56(dim) NK cells continue to differentiate. During this process, they lose expression of NKG2A, sequentially acquire inhibitory killer cell inhibitory immunoglobulin-like receptors and CD57, change their expression patterns of homing molecules, and display a gradual decline in proliferative capacity. All cellular intermediates of this process are represented in varying proportions at steady state and appear, over time, during the reconstitution of the immune system, as demonstrated in humanized mice and in patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. CD56(dim) NK-cell differentiation, and the associated functional imprint, occurs independently of NK-cell education by interactions with self-human leukocyte antigen class I ligands and is an essential part of the formation of human NK-cell repertoires.

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