Role of natural killer cells in antitumor resistance
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Natural killer cells constitute a population of lymphocytes able to non-specifically destroy virus-infected and some kinds of tumor cells. Since this lytic activity was shown by non-immunized animals the phenomenon is denominated natural killer (NK) activity and contrasts with specific cytotoxicity performed by cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTLs) because it does not depends on MHC-restricted peptides recognition. In fact, the main feature of most functional receptors of NK cells (NKRs) is their ability to be inhibited by different kinds of class I MHC antigens. In the middle of the 1950's, Burnet & Thomas forged the concept of tumor immunosurveillance and NK cells can be considered one of the main figures in this phenomenon both for effector and regulatory functions. In the present review the early studies on the biology of NK cells were revisited and both their antitumor activity and dependence on the activation by cytokines are discussed.
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