Human NK cell recognition of target cells in the prism of natural cytotoxicity receptors and their ligands Academic Article uri icon


  • The matter of the pathogen- and cancer-associated ligands recognized by the Natural Cytotoxicity Receptors (NCRs) has been a subject of intense research ever since the identification of the NCRs more than 12 years ago by Alessandro and Lorenzo Moretta: NKp46 in 1997, NKp44 in 1998, and finally NKp30 in 1999. Expression patterns recognized by NCRs include pathogen-derived, pathogen-induced, and cancer-associated cellular 'self' ligands. Pathogen-exposed cells may exhibit both types of pathogen-associated ligands. Transformed cells, in contrast, exhibit only 'self' ligands which are derived from both the intracellular- and membrane-associated milieu of self molecules. These expression patterns allow for NCR-based NK cell discrimination between healthy and affected cells, in the realms of both pathogenic infection and potential tumorigenesis. The focus of this review is on the current knowledge regarding the identities of NCR ligands and the type of target cells expressing these ligands.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012