The UL16-binding proteins, a novel family of MHC class I-related ligands for NKG2D, activate natural killer cell functions

Immunol Rev. 2001 Jun;181:185-92. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-065x.2001.1810115.x.


The UL16-binding proteins (ULBPs) are a novel family of MHC class I-related molecules (MICs) that were identified based on their ability to bind to the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) glycoprotein UL16. UL16 also binds to a member of another family of MHC class I-like molecules, MICB. The ULBPs and MICs are ligands for NKG2D/DAP10, an activating receptor expressed by natural killer (NK) cells and other immune effector cells, and this interaction can be blocked by UL16. Engagement of NKG2D/DAP10 by ULBPs or MICs expressed on a target cell can overcome an inhibitory signal generated by NK-cell recognition of MHC class I molecules and trigger NK cytotoxicity. ULBPs elicit their effects on NK cells by activating the janus kinase 2, signal transducer and activator of transcription 5, extracellular-signal-regulated kinase mitogen-activated protein kinase and Akt/protein kinase B signal transduction pathways. Although ULBPs alone activate multiple signaling pathways and induce modest cytokine production, ULBPs synergize strongly with interleukin-12 for production of interferon-gamma by NK cells. This finding is consistent with reports in T cells that NKG2D/DAP10 can act as a co-stimulatory receptor in a similar manner as CD28. The possible roles of ULBPs in mediating immune responses to viruses and tumors and the potential mechanisms by which UL16 may allow HCMV to evade immune detection are areas of active investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell
  • Signal Transduction
  • Viral Proteins / immunology


  • Carrier Proteins
  • HCST protein, human
  • Hcst protein, mouse
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • KLRK1 protein, human
  • Klrk1 protein, mouse
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Proteins
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell
  • Viral Proteins