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Natural Killer (NK) Cells: Guardians of Immunity and Tumor Defense

Within the intricate landscape of our immune system, an extraordinary group of cells known as Natural Killer (NK) cells emerges as mighty warriors, playing a vital role in our body's defense against infections and cancer.

NK cells are a type of white blood cell, part of the innate immune system. They are bestowed with the remarkable ability to identify and eliminate abnormal cells, such as microbial infections and cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells. This unique attribute makes NK cells a potent force in immunosurveillance and antitumor immunity [1].


Originating from the bone marrow, NK cells patrol our body, constantly scanning for signs of cellular abnormalities. Equipped with an array of stimulatory and inhibitory receptors, NK cells detect changes in cell surface molecules and unleash their cytotoxic arsenal to destroy the targeted cells [2]. Moreover, NK cells possess the capacity to produce cytokine and chemokine molecules, further enhancing their immunomodulatory and antitumor properties [3,4].

Despite the significance of NK cells in cancer immunotherapy, growing studies has shown dysfunctional of NK cells in patients with cancer resulting tumors escaping immune surveillance and occurrence of tumor evasion. The release of inhibitory factors by tumor microenvironment hinders normal function of NK cells against tumor [5]. Since NK cell antitumor function is usually impaired in cancer patients, restoring this antitumor function could be a promising therapeutic strategy [6].

To overcome this challenge, scientists are exploring various therapeutic strategies such as cytokine stimulation and genetic manipulation to improve NK tumor-killing capacity [5]. These endeavors aim to enhance the cytotoxicity, persistence, and specificity of NK cells, paving the way for innovative treatments that exploit the full capabilities of our immune system.


Image Credits

Image by Philippe Delavie from Pixabay


1. Vivier, E., Tomasello, E., Baratin, M., Walzer, T., & Ugolini, S. (2008). Functions of natural killer cells. Nature immunology, 9(5), 503-510.

2. Shimasaki, N., Jain, A., & Campana, D. (2020). NK cells for cancer immunotherapy. Nature reviews Drug discovery, 19(3), 200-218.

3. Fauriat, C., Long, E. O., Ljunggren, H. G., & Bryceson, Y. T. (2010). Regulation of human NK-cell cytokine and chemokine production by target cell recognition. Blood, The Journal of the American Society of Hematology, 115(11), 2167-2176.

4. Romee, R., Leong, J. W., & Fehniger, T. A. (2014). Utilizing cytokines to function-enable human NK cells for the immunotherapy of cancer. Scientifica, 2014.

5. Foo, Y. Y., Tiah, A., & Aung, S. W. (2023). Harnessing the power of memory-like NK cells to fight cancer. Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 212(3), 212-223.

6. Li, Y., & Sun, R. (2018). Tumor immunotherapy: new aspects of natural killer cells. Chinese Journal of Cancer Research, 30(2), 173.

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