Natural killer cells and nitric oxide

M. Grazia Cifone, Salvatore Ulisse, Angela Santoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Natural killer (NK) cells and nitric oxide (NO) are both important components of the natural or innate immune response. NK cells are large granular lymphocytes capable of destroying cells infected by virus or bacteria and susceptible tumor cells without prior sensitization and restriction by MHC antigens. They are abundant in blood, spleen, liver and lungs and are distinct from both T and B lymphocytes in their circulation patterns, profile of surface antigens, receptor repertoire and the way in which they discriminate between self and non-self. Uniquely, NK cells express receptors that can recognize and discriminate between normal and altered MHC class I determinants. NK cell cytotoxic activity is strongly induced by cytokines such as IL-2 and IL-12, and this activation is associated with synthesis of NO. Inhibitors of NO synthesis impair NK cell-mediated target cell killing, demonstrating a role for NO in NK cell function. Furthermore, NO itself can regulate NK cell activation. In this article, evidence that NO is a mediator of NK cell-mediated target cell killing, and that NO is a regulator of NK cell activation will be reviewed. Results of NO synthase gene deletion studies will be discussed, and rodent and human NK cells will be compared.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1513-1524
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Immunopharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Cell activation
  • Natural killer cells
  • Nitric oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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