Paired inhibitory and triggering NK cell receptors for HLA class I molecules

Hum Immunol. 2000 Jan;61(1):7-17. doi: 10.1016/s0198-8859(99)00161-5.


Human natural killer (NK) cells specifically interact with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules employing different receptor systems, shared with subsets of alphabeta and gammadelta T lymphocytes. Killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) recognize groups of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class Ia proteins displaying common structural features at the alpha-1 domain; among them, KIR2DL4 has been proposed to specifically interact with the class Ib molecule HLA-G1. Members of a related family of immunoglobulin (Ig)-like receptors (ILT2 or LIR-1 and ILT4 or LIR-2), expressed by other leukocyte lineages, interact with a broad spectrum of class Ia molecules and HLA-G1. On the other hand, CD94/NKG2-A(-C) and NKG2D lectin-like receptors, respectively, recognize the class Ib molecules HLA-E and MICA. A recurrent finding within the different receptor families is the existence of pairs of homologous molecules that often share the same ligands but display divergent functions. Inhibitory receptors tend to exhibit an affinity for HLA molecules higher than their activating counterparts. Recruitment of SH2 domain-bearing tyrosine phosphatases (SHP) by cytoplasmic phosphorylated immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibition motifs (ITIMs) is a crucial event for the inhibitory signalling pathway. By contrast, triggering receptors assemble with homodimers of immune tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM)-bearing adaptor molecules (i.e., DAP12, CD3 xi) that engage tyrosine kinases (ZAP70 and syk).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Immunologic / classification
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics
  • Receptors, Immunologic / immunology
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, KIR
  • Receptors, KIR2DL4


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • KIR2DL4 protein, human
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Receptors, KIR
  • Receptors, KIR2DL4