Dynamic Regulation of NK Cell Responsiveness

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2016:395:95-114. doi: 10.1007/82_2015_485.


Natural killer (NK) cells deliver cytotoxic granules and immunomodulatory cytokines in response to transformed and virally infected cells. NK cell functions are under the control of a large number of germline-encoded receptors that recognize various ligands on target cells, but NK cells also respond to cytokines in the surrounding environment. The interaction between NK cell receptors and their ligands delivers either inhibitory or activating signals. The cytokine milieu further shapes NK cell responses, either directly or by influencing the way inhibitory or activating signals are perceived by NK cells. In this review, we discuss how NK cell function is controlled by inhibitory receptors and MHC-I molecules, how activating receptors contribute to NK cell education, and finally, how cytokines secreted by the surrounding cells affect NK cell responsiveness. Inputs at these three levels involve different cell types and are seamlessly integrated to form a functional NK cell population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Genes, MHC Class I
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell / genetics
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Natural Killer Cell