Review Article | Published:

Natural killer cell specificity for viral infections

Nature Immunologyvolume 19pages800808 (2018) | Download Citation


Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes that contribute to the early immune responses to viruses. NK cells are innate immune cells that do not express rearranged antigen receptors but sense their environment via receptors for pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as via germline-encoded activating receptors specific for danger or pathogen signals. A group of such activating receptors is stochastically expressed by certain subsets within the NK cell compartment. After engagement of the cognate viral ligand, these receptors contribute to the specific activation and ‘preferential’ population expansion of defined NK cell subsets, which partially recapitulate some features of adaptive lymphocytes. In this Review, we discuss the numerous modes for the specific recognition of viral antigens and peptides by NK cells and the implications of this for the composition of the NK cell repertoire as well as for the the selection of viral variants.

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Supported by the Leibniz ScienceCampus Chronic Inflammation, the German Research Foundation (SFB-TRR241, RO3565/2-1 and RO3565/4-1 to C.R.), the German Research Foundation Heisenberg Program (RO 3565/1-1 for C.R.) and the Leibniz Graduate School for Rheumatology (Q.H.).

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Author notes

    • Quirin Hammer

    Present address: Center for Infectious Medicine, Department of Medicine Huddinge, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden

  1. These authors contributed equally: Quirin Hammer, Timo Rückert.


  1. Innate Immunity, German Rheumatism Research Center, Leibniz Association, Berlin, Germany

    • Quirin Hammer
    • , Timo Rückert
    •  & Chiara Romagnani
  2. Medical Department I, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    • Chiara Romagnani


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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Chiara Romagnani.

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