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Blood. 2012 Apr 19;119(16):3734-43. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-11-392951. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

Tim-3 marks human natural killer cell maturation and suppresses cell-mediated cytotoxicity.

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Hawaii Center for AIDS, Department of Tropical Medicine, University of Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine, Honolulu, 96813, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes that play an important role against viral infections and cancer. This effect is achieved through a complex mosaic of inhibitory and activating receptors expressed by NK cells that ultimately determine the magnitude of the NK-cell response. The T-cell immunoglobulin- and mucin domain-containing (Tim)-3 receptor was initially identified as a T-helper 1-specific type I membrane protein involved in regulating T-cell responses. Human NK cells transcribe the highest amounts of Tim-3 among lymphocytes. Tim-3 protein is expressed on essentially all mature CD56(dim)CD16(+) NK cells and is expressed heterogeneously in the immature CD56(bright)CD16(-) NK-cell subset in blood from healthy adults and in cord blood. Tim-3 expression was induced on CD56(bright)CD16(-) NK cells after stimulation with IL-15 or IL-12 and IL-18 in vitro, suggesting that Tim-3 is a maturation marker on NK cells. Whereas Tim-3 has been used to identify dysfunctional T cells, NK cells expressing high amounts of Tim-3 are fully responsive with respect to cytokine production and cytotoxicity. However, when Tim-3 was cross-linked with antibodies it suppressed NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity. These findings suggest that NK-cell responses may be negatively regulated when NK cells encounter target cells expressing cognate ligands of Tim-3.

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