NK cell development, homeostasis and function: parallels with CD8⁺ T cells

Nat Rev Immunol. 2011 Aug 26;11(10):645-57. doi: 10.1038/nri3044.


Natural killer (NK) cells survey host tissues for signs of infection, transformation or stress and, true to their name, kill target cells that have become useless or are detrimental to the host. For decades, NK cells have been classified as a component of the innate immune system. However, accumulating evidence in mice and humans suggests that, like the B and T cells of the adaptive immune system, NK cells are educated during development, possess antigen-specific receptors, undergo clonal expansion during infection and generate long-lived memory cells. In this Review, we highlight the many stages that an NK cell progresses through during its remarkable lifetime, discussing similarities and differences with its close relative, the cytotoxic CD8(+) T cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival / immunology*
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • DNA Virus Infections / immunology
  • DNA Virus Infections / pathology
  • DNA Virus Infections / virology
  • Homeostasis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Killer Cells, Natural* / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural* / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • RNA Virus Infections / immunology
  • RNA Virus Infections / pathology
  • RNA Virus Infections / virology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cytokine / immunology
  • Receptors, Cytokine / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Receptors, Cytokine
  • Transcription Factors