Natural killer (NK) cells are immune cells that kill certain tumors and are important in the fight against viruses and other pathogens. NK cells use receptors on their cell surfaces to distinguish infected from uninfected cells. Healthy cells escape killing by NK cells because they display MHC class I proteins. NK cells destroy cells that lack class I (through NK activating receptors) and ignore cells that have it (through NK inhibitory receptors). Virally infected cells tend not to display class I and are therefore killed. Activating receptors are thought to be crucial for stimulation of NK cells.
In the March issue of Nature Immunology (Vol. 2, No. 3), researchers from La Jolla, CA, USA and Munich, Germany, visualized an NK activating receptor for the first time. They use a technique called crystallography that allows the detailed three-dimensional structure of the molecule to be visualized. This picture that we now have of the NK cell activating receptor gives us insight into how this molecule interacts with class I family members, of which there are many. This information is invaluable in furthering our understanding of how NK cells function, and ultimately, will help the fight against tumors and infections.
Ian A. Wilson
Scripps Research Institute
Department of Molecular Biology
Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology
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La Jolla, CA 92037
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(C) Nature Immunology press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza