Development and maturation of natural killer cells

Curr Opin Immunol. 2016 Apr;39:82-9. doi: 10.1016/j.coi.2016.01.007. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes that are critical for host protection against pathogens and cancer due to their ability to rapidly release inflammatory cytokines and kill infected or transformed cells. In the 40 years since their initial discovery, much has been learned about how this important cellular lineage develops and functions. We now know that NK cells are the founding members of an expanded family of lymphocyte known as innate lymphoid cells (ILC). Furthermore, we have recently discovered that NK cells can possess features of adaptive immunity such as antigen specificity and long-lived memory responses. Here we will review our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms driving development of NK cells from the common lymphoid progenitor (CLP) to mature NK cells, and from activated effectors to long-lived memory NK cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lymphoid Progenitor Cells / physiology
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors