Lung natural killer cells in mice: phenotype and response to respiratory infection

Immunology. 2012 Sep;137(1):37-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2012.03607.x.


Natural killer (NK) cells have a specialized function in peripheral organs, which is determined by the organ-specific niches. We have attempted to explore whether lung NK cells display a particular phenotype according to their function in the unique pulmonary environment in health or during respiratory infection in mice. In healthy mice, higher frequencies of NK cells among lymphocytes were detected in the lung than in other tissues (lymph node, bone marrow, spleen, blood and liver), and lung NK cells maintained a more mature phenotype, implying that lung NK cells were critical for the pulmonary immune response. However, lung NK cells expressed higher levels of inhibitory receptors and lower levels of activating receptors, migration/adhesion-associated molecules and co-stimulatory molecules than splenic NK cells, implying that lung NK cells were quiescent, and the activation of lung NK cells was tightly regulated by the pulmonary environment in health. During respiratory infection, lung NK cells could be activated and express functional molecules (CD107a and interferon-γ) to take part in the response to infection quickly. These results suggested that the unique pulmonary environment promotes the development of NK cells with a lung-specific phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Klebsiella Infections / immunology
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae / immunology
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae / pathogenicity
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / immunology
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / virology
  • Phenotype
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity


  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • Interferon-gamma