Natural killer cells in cancer immunotherapy

Jeffrey S. Miller, Lewis L. Lanier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells have evolved to complement T and B cells in host defense against pathogens and cancer. They recognize infected cells and tumors using a sophisticated array of activating, costimulatory, and inhibitory receptors that are expressed on NK cell subsets to create extensive functional diversity. NK cells can be targeted to kill with exquisite antigen specificity by antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. NK and T cells share many of the costimulatory and inhibitory receptors that are currently under evaluation in the clinic for cancer immunotherapy. As with T cells, genetic engineering is being employed to modify NK cells to specifically target them to tumors and to enhance their effector functions. As the selective pressures exerted by immunotherapies to augment CD8+ T cell responses may result in loss of MHC class I, NK cells may provide an important fail-safe to eliminate these tumors by their capacity to eliminate tumors that are "missing self.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-103
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Cancer Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • IL-15
  • IL-2
  • immunotherapy
  • inhibitory receptor
  • natural killer cell


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