Participatory role of natural killer and natural killer T cells in atherosclerosis: lessons learned from in vivo mouse studies

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Jan;84(1):67-75. doi: 10.1139/y05-159.


Atherosclerosis is a multifactor, highly complex disease with numerous aetiologies that work synergistically to promote lesion development. One of the emerging components that drive the development of both early- and late-stage atherosclerotic lesions is the participation of both the innate and acquired immune systems. In both humans and animal models of atherosclerosis, the most prominent cells that infiltrate evolving lesions are macrophages and T lymphocytes. The functional loss of either of these cell types reduces the extent of atherosclerosis in mice that were rendered susceptible to the disease by deficiency of either apolipoprotein E or the LDL (low density lipoprotein) receptor. In addition to these major immune cell participants, a number of less prominent leukocyte populations that can modulate the atherogenic process are also involved. This review will focus on the participatory role of two "less prominent" immune components, namely natural killer (NK) cells and natural killer T (NKT) cells. Although this review will highlight the fact that both NK and NKT cells are not sufficient for causing the disease, the roles played by both these cells types are becoming increasingly important in understanding the complexity of this disease process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*