Human NK cells in acute myeloid leukaemia patients: analysis of NK cell-activating receptors and their ligands

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2011 Aug;60(8):1195-205. doi: 10.1007/s00262-011-1050-2. Epub 2011 Jun 5.


Natural killer (NK) cell activation is strictly regulated to ensure that healthy cells are preserved, but tumour-transformed or virus-infected cells are recognized and eliminated. To carry out this selective killing, NK cells have an ample repertoire of receptors on their surface. Signalling by inhibitory and activating receptors by interaction with their ligands will determine whether the NK cell becomes activated and kills the target cell. Here, we show reduced expression of NKp46, NKp30, DNAM-1, CD244 and CD94/NKG2C activating receptors on NK cells from acute myeloid leukaemia patients. This reduction may be induced by chronic exposure to their ligands on leukaemic blasts. The analysis of ligands for NK cell-activating receptors showed that leukaemic blasts from the majority of patients express ligands for NK cell-activating receptors. DNAM-1 ligands are frequently expressed on blasts, whereas the expression of the NKG2D ligand MICA/B is found in half of the patients and CD48, a ligand for CD244, in only one-fourth of the patients. The decreased expression of NK cell-activating receptors and/or the heterogeneous expression of ligands for major receptors on leukaemic blasts can lead to an inadequate tumour immunosurveillance by NK cells. A better knowledge of the activating receptor repertoire on NK cells and their putative ligands on blasts together with the possibility to modulate their expression will open new possibilities for the use of NK cells in immunotherapy against leukaemia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / immunology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / therapy*
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell / genetics
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • Tumor Escape*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell