The role of NK cells in autoimmune disease

Autoimmunity. 2002 Feb;35(1):1-14. doi: 10.1080/08916930290005864.


NK cells are a subset of mononuclear cells which have long been suspected of playing an immunoregulatory role in the prevention of autoimmune diseases. Here, we briefly discuss the characteristics of NK cells--particularly what is known of their functional capabilities--and summarise the major findings from studies of NK cells in human and animals susceptible to three major autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and type 1 (autoimmune) diabetes mellitus. In each case, we present the evidence for an association between disease and deficiencies in NK cells. The prospect of clinical interventions that stimulate NK cell activity are discussed and the current status described.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyquinolines / therapeutic use
  • Interferons / therapeutic use
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Mice
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Rats
  • Self Tolerance


  • Cytokines
  • Hydroxyquinolines
  • roquinimex
  • Interferons