In light of their role in the immune response against tumors and viruses, natural killer (NK) cells represent a promising target for immunotherapy. Before this target is reached, the various mechanisms that control NK cell activity must first be identified and understood. In the past decades, studies have identified two critical processes that prevent spontaneous NK cell–mediated autoimmune activation while maximizing the efficiency of these cells during an immune response. First is the education process, whereby NK cells adapt to their environment by sensing ligands for inhibitory and activating receptors. Second is the priming phase of NK cell activation, which arms NK cells with appropriate cytotoxic molecules during inflammation. New studies now indicate that NK cell proliferation, accumulation, and activation are also under the control of regulatory T cells that restrict availability of IL-2 released by activated CD4+ T cells. Together with other recent studies, these data highlight the importance of the adaptive immune system in the regulation of NK cell activity.
- Submitted: 9 May 2013
- Accepted: 13 May 2013
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