Despite the absence of antigen-specific receptors at their surface, NK cells can selectively eliminate virus-infected cells, tumor cells and allogenic cells. A dynamic and precisely coordinated balance between activating and inhibitory receptors governs NK cell activation programs. Multiple activating and inhibitory NK cell surface molecules have been described, a group of them acting as receptors for MHC class I molecules. In spite of their heterogeneity, activating NK cell receptors present remarkable structural and functional homologies with T cell- and B cell-antigen receptors. Inhibitory NK cell receptors operate at early stages of activating cascades by recruiting protein tyrosine phosphatases via intra- cytoplasmic motifs (ITIM), a strategy which is widely conserved in hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cells.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.