NK cells are regulated by opposing signals from receptors that activate and inhibit effector function. While positive stimulation may be initiated by an array of co-stimulatory receptors, specificity is provided by inhibitory signals transduced by receptors for MHC class I. Three distinct receptor families, Ly49, CD94/NKG2, and KIR, are involved in NK cell recognition of polymorphic MHC class I molecules. A common pathway of inhibitory signaling is provided by ITIM sequences in the cytoplasmic domains of these otherwise structurally diverse receptors. Upon ligand binding and activation, the inhibitory NK cell receptors become tyrosine phosphorylated and recruit tyrosine phosphatases, SHP-1 and possibly SHP-2, resulting in inhibition of NK cell–mediated cytotoxicity and cytokine expression. Recent studies suggest these inhibitory NK cell receptors are members of a larger superfamily containing ITIM sequences, the inhibitory receptor superfamily (IRS).


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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