Practical NK cell phenotyping and variability in healthy adults

Immunol Res. 2015 Jul;62(3):341-56. doi: 10.1007/s12026-015-8664-y.


Human natural killer (NK) cells display a wide array of surface and intracellular markers that indicate various states of differentiation and/or levels of effector function. These NK cell subsets exist simultaneously in peripheral blood and may vary among individuals. We examined variety among selected NK cell receptors expressed by NK cells from normal donors, as well as the distribution of select NK cell subsets and NK cell receptor expression over time in several individual donors. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were evaluated using flow cytometry via fluorochrome-conjugated antibodies against a number of NK cell receptors. Results were analyzed for both mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) and the percent positive cells for each receptor. CD56(bright) and CD56(dim) NK cell subsets were also considered separately, as was variation in receptor expression in NK cell subsets over time in selected individuals. Through this effort, we provide ranges of NK cell surface receptor expression for a local adult population as well as provide insight into intra-individual variation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • CD56 Antigen / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping / methods*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology*


  • CD56 Antigen
  • NCAM1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Cell Surface