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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2012 May;69(10):1597-608. doi: 10.1007/s00018-012-0968-7. Epub 2012 Mar 30.

Homeostatic maintenance of T cells and natural killer cells.

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Allergy Unit, Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Zurich, Gloriastrasse 31, Zurich, Switzerland.


Homeostasis in the immune system encompasses the mechanisms governing maintenance of a functional and diverse pool of lymphocytes, thus guaranteeing immunity to pathogens while remaining self-tolerant. Antigen-naïve T cells rely on survival signals through contact with self-peptide-loaded major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules plus interleukin (IL)-7. Conversely, antigen-experienced (memory) T cells are typically MHC-independent and they survive and undergo periodic homeostatic proliferation through contact with both IL-7 and IL-15. Also, non-conventional γδ T cells rely on a mix of IL-7 and IL-15 for their homeostasis, whereas natural killer cells are mainly dependent on contact with IL-15. Homeostasis of CD4(+) T regulatory cells is different in being chiefly regulated by contact with IL-2. Notably, increased levels of these cytokines cause expansion of responsive lymphocytes, such as found in lymphopenic hosts or following cytokine injection, whereas reduced cytokine levels cause a decline in cell numbers.

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