- We used human tuberculosis as a model to investigate the role of NK cytotoxic mechanisms in the immune response to intracellular infection. Freshly isolated NK cells and NK cell lines from healthy donors lysed Mycobacterium tuberculosis-infected monocytes to a greater extent than uninfected monocytes. Lysis of infected monocytes was associated with increased expression of mRNA for the NKp46 receptor, but not the NKp44 receptor. Antisera to NKp46 markedly inhibited lysis of infected monocytes. NK cell-mediated lysis was not due to reduced expression of MHC class I molecules on the surface of infected monocytes or to enhanced production of IL-18 or IFN-gamma. NK cell lytic activity against M. tuberculosis-infected monocytes and NKp46 mRNA expression were reduced in tuberculosis patients with ineffective immunity to M. tuberculosis compared with findings in healthy donors. These observations suggest that 1) the NKp46 receptor participates in NK cell-mediated lysis of cells infected with an intracellular pathogen, and 2) the reduced functional capacity of NK cells is associated with severe manifestations of infectious disease.