Saturday 14 November 2020

Natural killer cells also have a memory function


One third of the cytotoxic killer cells in the liver as a potential therapeutic target. Immunologists have ascribed an immunological memory function to a subset of cytotoxic NK cells, which have hitherto been regarded as antigen-non-specific.


The researchers showed that around one third of all human liver NK cells can remember viruses and therefore respond specifically to them.


These cells are therefore an interesting target for prophylactic use in the human immune system in the fight against infections and viruses.


NK cells are natural cytotoxic killer cells in human blood and are a type of lymphocyte, a subgroup of white blood cells or leukocytes. They are able to identify and kill abnormal cells such as tumour cells or virally infected cells (apoptosis). Up until now, NK cells have been regarded as having no memory function, meaning that they are unable to kill on an "antigen-specific" basis but are only able to react afresh each time to viruses and sources of infection in a non-specific way.


In the study scientists found that there is a subset of NK cells in the liver -- the organ which is generally regarded as a large reservoir for NK cells -- that is able to fight infections such as hepatitis A and B and to remember them. This subset also exhibits a unique gene expression profile that is different from that of other NK cell groups.




Victoria Stary, Ram Vinay Pandey, Johanna Strobl, A discrete subset of epigenetically primed human NK cells mediates antigen-specific immune responses. Science Immunology, 2020; 5 (52): eaba6232 DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aba6232


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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