NK cell receptors and their ligands in leukemia

Leukemia. 2008 Feb;22(2):249-57. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2405040. Epub 2007 Nov 29.


Human natural killer (NK) cells are built to kill abnormal cells but to preserve autologous normal cells. To accomplish this task, they are equipped with a large number of inhibiting and activating receptors. Ligation with corresponding ligands will determine whether the NK cell becomes activated to destroy the abnormal cell. This review will focus on the abnormalities of NK cell receptors and their putative ligands found in patients with leukemia, which can lead to an inadequate function of NK cells allowing these malignant cells to escape from NK cell destruction. In recent years it has become clear that NK cells in the haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) setting are very effective in eliminating residual acute myeloid, but not acute lymphoid, leukemic cells. In this regard, we also reviewed published studies of retrospective cohorts of HSCT investigating the potential beneficial effect of killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) ligands on NK alloreactivity. Manipulating NK cell inhibition or activation could lead to new forms of immunotherapy, ultimately leading to the elimination of resistant leukemic cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Graft vs Leukemia Effect
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / methods
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Leukemia / immunology
  • Leukemia / therapy*
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Immunologic / physiology*
  • Receptors, KIR


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Receptors, KIR