Ontogeny, specific functions and receptors of human natural killer cells

Lorenzo Moretta, Ermanno Ciccone, Alessandro Poggi, Maria Cristina Mingari, Alessandro Moretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several of the generally accepted ideas on natural killer (NK) cells have been challenged by recent data that have substantially modified our view on these lymphoid cell populations. Although maturation of NK cells can occur in the absence of a functional thymus, clonogenic precursors capable of differentiating into mature CD3-16+56+ NK cells were found in CD3-4-8-16- populations isolated from human postnatal thymus. Analysis of the cytolytic activity of interleukin-2-activated NK cell populations and clones revealed that they can lyse normal cells (e.g., PHA blasts) isolated from certain individuals. In addition, NK clones isolated from single donors displayed different patterns of cytolytic activity against a panel of allogeneic cells, thus indicating that an NK cell repertoire exists. Genetic analyses of the determinants responsible for susceptibility/resistance to lysis together with the use of HLA-defective variants or HLA-transfectants revealed that the expression of given HLA class I alleles protects target cells from lysis by different groups of NK clones. Thus, NK cells express a clonally distributed ability to recognize HLA class I alleles. New monoclonal antibodies directed to members of a novel family of NK-specific p58 molecules allowed identification of the putative NK receptors for different major histocompatibility complex class I alleles. Indeed, a precise correlation has been established between expression of given p58 molecules (e.g., EB6 and GL183 molecules) and class I alleles recognized. In addition, anti-p58 monoclonal antibodies restored the NK-mediated lysis of class I-protected cells. A similar effect was obtained with anti-p58-induced modulation of p58 surface molecules. The physiological implications of these receptor-ligand interactions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-88
Number of pages6
JournalImmunology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1994


  • Major histocompatibility complex class I
  • Natural killer cell
  • Natural killer receptor
  • Natural killer repertoire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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