Cytotoxic immunological synapses

Immunol Rev. 2010 May;235(1):24-34. doi: 10.1111/j.0105-2896.2010.00904.x.


One of the most fundamental activities of the adaptive immune system is to kill infected cells and tumor cells. Two distinct pathways mediate this process, both of which are facilitated by a cytotoxic immunological synapse. While traditionally thought of as innate immune cells, natural killer (NK) cells are now appreciated to have the capacity for long-term adaptation to chemical and viral insults. These cells integrate multiple positive and negative signals through NK cell cytotoxic or inhibitory synapses. The traditional CD8(+)alphabeta T-cell receptor-positive cells are among the best models for the concept of an immunological synapse, in which vectoral signaling is linked to directed secretion in a stable interface to induce apoptotic cell death in an infected cell. Large-scale molecular organization in synapses generated a number of hypotheses. Studies in the past 5 years have started to provide clear answers regarding the validity of these models. In vivo imaging approaches have provided some hints as to the physiologic relevance of these processes with great promise for the future. This review provides an overview of work on cytotoxic immunological synapses and suggests pathways forward in applying this information to the development of therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Humans
  • Immunological Synapses / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Secretory Vesicles / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*