Different families of major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-specific inhibitory receptors (NKRs) play a major role in natural killer (NK) cell function, allowing discrimination between normal cells and cells that do not express adequate amounts of MHC class I antigens. This occurs in most instances as a consequence of viral infection or tumor transformation. In T lymphocytes, expression of NKR is mostly confined to activated CD8+ cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTLs). While NKR expression by CTLs may be viewed as a mechanism preventing damages to normal cells by those CTLs that have acquired NK-like activity, it may also down regulate TCR-mediated T cell activation, thus, impairing CTL functions. The finding that certain cytokines can modulate killer inhibitory receptor expression in CTLs is of major interest and might be instrumental in novel therapeutic approaches aimed at the down regulation ofT-cell function in transplantation or autoimmunity.
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