Enormous progress has been made recently in understanding natural killer (NK) cells - a group of immune cells with diverse biological functions and wide ranging therapeutic potential. A series of articles in Nature Immunology explore the behaviour of these enigmatic lymphocytes and reflect on their transition from outcasts of mainstream immunology to prominent players in innate immunity.
In a Review article, Eric Vivier makes the case that although originally identified as capable of killing tumour cells in culture dishes, NK cells are now established as playing important roles in eliminating pathogens, 'steering' the course of immune responses and facilitating fetus implantation during pregnancy. Laurence Zitvogel emphasizes in a Perspective article that much more clinical work is needed to translate this knowledge of NK cell function into efficacious therapies for autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Lewis Lanier discusses the mechanisms through which NK cells manage to respond to pathogens and tumour cells yet remain tolerant to healthy 'self' cells thereby preventing the cells from inducing autoimmunity. Klas Karre recounts his seminal work on the same topic in an Essay.
Finally Jim Di Santo overviews the 'top ten' outstanding questions in NK cell biology, and Wayne Yokoyama highlights experimental pitfalls that should be avoided by those seeking to answer these questions.
Together with the articles online, the Focus includes links to seminal papers nominated by experts; recent papers in the field published by Nature Publishing Group, and highlights of recent studies that present new insight into NK cell biology.
Eric Vivier (Universite la Mediterranee, Marseille, France)
Laurence Zitvogel (INSERM, Institut Gustave Roussy, Paris, France)
Lewis Lanier (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Klas Karre (Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
James Di Santo (INSERM, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France)
Wayne Yokoyama (Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA)
(C) Nature Immunology press release.
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