Natural Killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with an important role in the early defense against intracellular pathogens and against tumors. Like other immune cells, almost every aspects of their biology are regulated by cytokines. Interleukin (IL)-15 is pivotal for their development, homeostasis, and activation. Moreover, numerous other activating or inhibitory cytokines such as IL-2, IL-4, IL-7, IL-10, IL-12, IL-18, IL-21, Transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) and type I interferons regulate their activation and their effector functions at different stages of the immune response. In this review we summarize the current understanding on the effect of these different cytokines on NK cell development, homeostasis, and functions during steady-state or upon infection by different pathogens. We try to delineate the cellular sources of these cytokines, the intracellular pathways they trigger and the transcription factors they regulate. We describe the known synergies or antagonisms between different cytokines and highlight outstanding questions in this field of investigation. Finally, we discuss how a better knowledge of cytokine action on NK cells could help improve strategies to manipulate NK cells in different clinical situations.
Keywords: TGF-beta; cytotoxicity; interferons; interleukin-12; interleukin-15; interleukin-18; natural killer cells; signal transduction.