Natural Killer Cells: Development, Maturation, and Clinical Utilization

Front Immunol. 2018 Aug 13:9:1869. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.01869. eCollection 2018.


Natural killer (NK) cells are the predominant innate lymphocyte subsets that mediate anti-tumor and anti-viral responses, and therefore possess promising clinical utilization. NK cells do not express polymorphic clonotypic receptors and utilize inhibitory receptors (killer immunoglobulin-like receptor and Ly49) to develop, mature, and recognize "self" from "non-self." The essential roles of common gamma cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-2, IL-7, and IL-15 in the commitment and development of NK cells are well established. However, the critical functions of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-12, IL-18, IL-27, and IL-35 in the transcriptional-priming of NK cells are only starting to emerge. Recent studies have highlighted multiple shared characteristics between NK cells the adaptive immune lymphocytes. NK cells utilize unique signaling pathways that offer exclusive ways to genetically manipulate to improve their effector functions. Here, we summarize the recent advances made in the understanding of how NK cells develop, mature, and their potential translational use in the clinic.

Keywords: developmental stages; effector functions; human; mouse; natural killer cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Immunologic Surveillance
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Interleukin Receptor Common gamma Subunit / genetics
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily A / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Receptors, KIR / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Translational Research, Biomedical
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin Receptor Common gamma Subunit
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily A
  • Receptors, KIR