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Immunology. 2012 Sep;137(1):37-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2012.03607.x.

Lung natural killer cells in mice: phenotype and response to respiratory infection.

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Department of Immunology, School of Life Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui, China.


Natural killer (NK) cells have a specialized function in peripheral organs, which is determined by the organ-specific niches. We have attempted to explore whether lung NK cells display a particular phenotype according to their function in the unique pulmonary environment in health or during respiratory infection in mice. In healthy mice, higher frequencies of NK cells among lymphocytes were detected in the lung than in other tissues (lymph node, bone marrow, spleen, blood and liver), and lung NK cells maintained a more mature phenotype, implying that lung NK cells were critical for the pulmonary immune response. However, lung NK cells expressed higher levels of inhibitory receptors and lower levels of activating receptors, migration/adhesion-associated molecules and co-stimulatory molecules than splenic NK cells, implying that lung NK cells were quiescent, and the activation of lung NK cells was tightly regulated by the pulmonary environment in health. During respiratory infection, lung NK cells could be activated and express functional molecules (CD107a and interferon-γ) to take part in the response to infection quickly. These results suggested that the unique pulmonary environment promotes the development of NK cells with a lung-specific phenotype.

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