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Med Hypotheses. 2011 Feb;76(2):293-5. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2010.10.027. Epub 2010 Nov 13.

Recycling and reutilization of cytotoxic molecules, a new type of energy conservation of NK cells?

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Department of Immunology, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430030, China.


Natural killer (NK) cells play critical roles in defense against tumors and viral infections. They exert their cytotoxic functions through the secretion of granules containing cytotoxic molecules, such as perforin and granzymes. These cytotoxic molecules are stored within dual-functional organelles, known as secretory lysosomes. Target cell recognition induces the formation of an "immunological synapse", between the NK cell and its target, into which cytotoxic granules release their contents. However the post-exocytosis regulation of the process is still largely unknown. Recent research and the data accumulated therefrom lead to new hypotheses that suggest that, not unlike synaptic vesicle recycling in neuronal terminals, NK cells also recycle not just their secretory lysosome membranes but their correlated cytotoxic molecules (perforin and granzymes). The newly endocytosed vesicles are used to replenish the "reserve pool" of vesicles for continued NK cell serial killings. These hypotheses, if proved to be correct, will significantly improve our understanding of NK cell cytotoxicity mechanisms and might even suggest new NK cell-based therapies that rely on NK serial killing abilities for overcoming tumors.

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