NK Cell Interacting with a Normal Body Cell
Expressing MHC-I Molecules

NK cells use a dual receptor system in determining whether to kill or not kill human cells. When cells are either under stress, are turning into tumors, or are infected, various stress-induced molecules are produced and are put on the surface of that cell. The first NK cell receptor, called the killer-activating receptor, recognizes these stress-induced molecules. This interaction sends a positive signal which enables the NK cell to kill the cell to which it has bound unless the second receptor cancels that signal. This second receptor, called the killer-inhibitory receptor, recognizes MHC-I molecules that are also usually present on all nucleated human cells. If MHC-I molecules are expressed on the cell, the killer-inhibitory receptor sends a negative signal that overrides the kill signal and prevents the NK cell from killing that cell.

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Updated: Oct., 2008
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