Natural killer cells constitute a phenotypically diverse population of innate lymphoid cells with a broad functional spectrum. Classically defined as cytotoxic lymphocytes with the capacity to eliminate cells lacking self-MHC or expressing markers of stress or neoplastic transformation, critical roles for NK cells in immunity to infection, in the regulation of immune responses and as vaccine-induced effector cells have also emerged. A crucial feature of NK cell biology is their capacity to integrate signals from pathogen-, tumour- or stress-induced innate pathways and from antigen-specific immune responses. The extent to which innate and acquired immune mediators influence NK cell effector function is influenced by the maturation and differentiation state of the NK cell compartment; moreover NK cell differentiation is driven in part by exposure to infection. Pathogens can thus mould the NK cell response to maximise their own success and/or minimise the damage they cause. Here we review recent evidence that pathogen- and vaccine-derived signals influence the differentiation, adaptation and subsequent effector function of human NK cells.
- NK cells