Differentiation and adaptation of natural killer cells for anti-malarial immunity

Martin R Goodier, Asia-Sophia Wolf, Eleanor M Riley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Natural killer cells employ a diverse arsenal of effector mechanisms to target intracellular pathogens. Differentiation of natural killer (NK) cell activation pathways occurs along a continuum from reliance on innate pro-inflammatory cytokines and stress-induced host ligands through to interaction with signals derived from acquired immune responses. Importantly, the degree of functional differentiation of the NK cell lineage influences the magnitude and specificity of interactions with host cells infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Individual humans possess a vast diversity of distinct NK cell clones, each with the capacity to vary along this functional differentiation pathway, which - when combined - results in unique individual responses to different infections. Here we summarize these NK cell differentiation events, review evidence for direct interaction of malaria-infected host cells with NK cells and assess how innate inflammatory signals induced by malaria parasite-associated molecular patterns influence the indirect activation and function of NK cells. Finally, we discuss evidence that anti-malarial immunity develops in parallel with advancing NK differentiation, coincident with a loss of reliance on inflammatory signals, and a refined capacity of NK cells to target malaria parasites more precisely, particularly through antibody-dependent mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
JournalImmunological reviews
Early online date24 Nov 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2019


  • Natural Killer cells
  • malaria
  • antibodies
  • cytokines
  • adaptive immunity


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