Deciphering the Immunological Phenomenon of Adaptive Natural Killer (NK) Cells and Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Nov 23;21(22):8864. doi: 10.3390/ijms21228864.


Natural killer (NK) cells play a significant and vital role in the first line of defense against infection through their ability to target cells without prior sensitization. They also contribute significantly to the activation and recruitment of both innate and adaptive immune cells through the production of a range of cytokines and chemokines. In the context of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, NK cells and CMV have co-evolved side by side to employ several mechanisms to evade one another. However, during this co-evolution the discovery of a subset of long-lived NK cells with enhanced effector potential, increased antibody-dependent responses and the potential to mediate immune memory has revolutionized the field of NK cell biology. The ability of a virus to imprint on the NK cell receptor repertoire resulting in the expansion of diverse, highly functional NK cells to this day remains a significant immunological phenomenon that only occurs in the context of CMV. Here we review our current understanding of the development of these NK cells, commonly referred to as adaptive NK cells and their current role in transplantation, infection, vaccination and cancer immunotherapy to decipher the complex role of CMV in dictating NK cell functional fate.

Keywords: cancer immunotherapy; cytomegalovirus; natural killer cells; transplantation; vaccination; viral infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Coevolution*
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / genetics
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / genetics
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / virology