NK cells express clonally distributed receptors specific for MHC class I molecules. Structurally, these receptors belong to the C-type lectin superfamily in mouse and to the immunoglobulin superfamily in human. Functionally, they can be distinguished as inhibitory or stimulatory. Inhibitory receptors block NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity upon binding to HLA class I ligands. This function is mediated by phosphorylation of cytoplasmic tyrosines, which recruit the protein tyrosine phosphatase SHP-1. Stimulatory receptors also bind HLA class 1, lack cytoplasmic tyrosine-based motifs, and trigger NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity. All these receptors are characterized by a limited diversity allowing for sensitive detection of loss of MHC class I molecules on autologous transformed and virally infected cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-299
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Reviews in Immunology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1997


  • Class I histocompatibility antigens
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Natural immunology
  • Natural killer cells
  • Receptors


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