Human natural killer cell function and their interactions with dendritic cells

Lorenzo Moretta, Guido Ferlazzo, Maria Cristina Mingari, Giovanni Melioli, Alessandro Moretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Natural killer (NK) cells have long been considered as "primitive" and "non-specific" effector cells. However, the past 10 years have witnessed dramatic progress in our understanding of how NK cells function and their role in innate defenses. Thanks to specialized inhibitory receptors specific for MHC-class I molecules, they can sense the decrease or loss of these molecules, a typical condition of potentially dangerous cells such as tumor or virally-infected cells. NK cell triggering and lysis of these cells is mediated by several activating receptors and co-receptors that have recently been identified and cloned. While normal cells are usually resistant to the NK-mediated attack, a remarkable exception is represented by dendritic cells (DC). In their immature form (iDC), they are susceptible to NK-mediated lysis because of the expression of low levels of surface MHC-class I molecules. Since the process of DC maturation (mDC) is characterized by the surface expression of high levels of MHC-class I molecules, mDC become resistant to NK cells. Exposure to live bacteria induces rapid DC maturation and, thus, resistance to NK cells. The cross-talk between DC and NK cells is more complex and involves also a DC-dependent NK cell activation and proliferation. Thus, two important players of the innate immunity may be involved in a coordinated regulation of critical events occurring at the interface between innate and adaptive immunity.

Original languageEnglish
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2003



  • Dendritic cells
  • HLA class I-specific NK receptors
  • NK cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • veterinary(all)

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