Suicide behavior of target cells after binding with natural killer cells

G. Arancia, M. C. Sirianni, W. Malorini, S. Soddu, P. Crateri, C. Fiorentini, F. Aiuti, G. Donelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human natural killer (NK) cell activity seems to be related to the integrity and function of the cytoskeletal apparatus. It has been hypothesized that microfilaments and microtubules play a pivotal role. In particular, the binding of the NK cell to the target cell requires microfilament integrity, and the lysis of bound targets seems to depend on microtubule assembly. We focused on the changes occurring in cytoskeletal elements and surface structures of NK cells and of target cells highly sensitive to NK activity (K562). Our observations, performed by fluorescence and scanning electron microscopy, besides confirming a rearrangement of the cytoskeletal apparatus in the effector cell, provide evidence that target cell cytoskeletal elements are involved in NK cell function. In K562 cells, after binding with NK cells, there is marginal rearrangement of actin and polarization of tubulin and vimentin in the contact regions, accompanied by modification of surface structures. These findings suggest that the target cell plays an active role in its own death by participating in the formation of an extended area of intimate contact with the killer cell. In addition, they lend credence to the surprising proposal that NK cells may induce a suicide mechanism in target cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-172
Number of pages14
JournalBlood Cells
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991


  • Cytoskeleton
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Natural killer cells
  • Scanning electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology


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