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Semin Immunol. 2006 Jun;18(3):186-92.

The balancing act: inhibitory Ly49 regulate NKG2D-mediated NK cell functions.

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Blood Research Institute, Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.


NK cells use NKG2D receptor to recognize 'induced-self'. In apparent violation of the 'missing-self' hypothesis, NK cells stimulated through NKG2D can lyse target cells despite normal expression levels of MHC class I molecules. Although, 'overriding' of the inhibitory by the activating signals had been postulated the precise role of inhibitory Ly49 receptors on NKG2D-mediated activation has only started emerging. We propose that NKG2D-mediated activation is a function of 'altering the balance' in the signaling strength between the activating NKG2D and inhibiting Ly49 receptors. Balance in the signaling strength depends on the expression levels of activating ligands on the target cells. Qualitative and quantitative variations of MHC class I molecules expressed on the target cells also plays a major role in determining this 'altered-balance'. Consequently, the nature of Ly49 receptors expressed on specific NK subsets determines the level of NKG2D-mediated NK cell activation. These observations provide a firm basis of 'altered-balance' in NK signaling and describe an active interplay between inhibitory Ly49 and activating NKG2D receptors.

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