Is There Natural Killer Cell Memory and Can It Be Harnessed by Vaccination? Natural Killer Cells in Vaccination

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2018 Oct 1;10(10):a029488. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029488.


Natural killer (NK) cells have historically been considered to be a part of the innate immune system, exerting a rapid response against pathogens and tumors in an antigen (Ag)-independent manner. However, over the past decade, evidence has accumulated suggesting that at least some NK cells display certain characteristics of adaptive immune cells. Indeed, NK cells can learn and remember encounters with a variety of Ags, including chemical haptens and viruses. Upon rechallenge, memory NK cells mount potent recall responses selectively to those Ags. This phenomenon, traditionally termed "immunological memory," has been reported in mice, nonhuman primates, and even humans and appears to be concentrated in discrete NK cell subsets. Because immunological memory protects against recurrent infections and is the central goal of active vaccination, it is crucial to define the mechanisms and consequences of NK cell memory. Here, we summarize the different kinds of memory responses that have been attributed to specific NK cell subsets and discuss the possibility to harness NK cell memory for vaccination purposes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Vaccination*