Natural killer (NK) cells are white blood lymphocytes of the innate immune system that have diverse biological functions, including recognition and destruction of certain microbial infections and neoplasms . NK cells comprise ~ 10% of all circulating lymphocytes and are also found in peripheral tissues including the liver, peritoneal cavity and placenta. Resting NK cells circulate in the blood, but, following activation by cytokines, they are capable of extravasation and infiltration into most tissues that contain pathogen-infected or malignant cells [2-5]. NK cells discriminate between normal and abnormal cells (infected or transformed) through engagement and dynamic integration of multiple signaling pathways, which are initiated by germline-encoded receptors [6-8]. Healthy cells are protected from NK cell-mediated lysis by expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I ligands for NK cell inhibitory receptors [6, 9]. The MHC is a group of highly polymorphic glycoproteins that are expressed by every nucleated cell of vertebrates, and that are encoded by the MHC gene cluster. The human MHC molecules are termed human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-A, B and C molecules. Every NK cell expresses at least one inhibitory receptor that recognizes a self-MHC class I molecule. So, normal cells that express MHC class I molecules are protected from self-NK cells, but transformed or infected cells that have down-regulated MHC class I expression are attacked by NK cells . ...
Frankfurt (Main), Univ., Diss., 2008