Tyrosine phosphorylation provides an early and requisite signal for the activation of natural killer cell cytotoxic function

Kregg J. Einspahr, Robert T. Abraham, Bryce A. Binstadt, Yoshimasa Uehara, Paul J. Leibson

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116 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells are a unique sub-population of lymphocytes with the capability to kill malignant cells via one of two alternative mechanisms: (i) Fc receptor-dependent cytotoxicity against antibody-coated targets or (ii) direct cell-mediated cytotoxicity. However, the molecular mechanisms that trigger and subsequently regulate NK cell cytotoxicity are incompletely understood. We have therefore investigated the role of protein tyrosine phosphorylation in the transmembrane signaling initiated after Fc receptor stimulation or direct tumor cell contact in clonal CD16+/CD3- human NK cells. We report that stimulation of the Fc receptor rapidly induced the tyrosine phosphorylation of a number of NK cell proteins. These effects occurred within 2 min, were maximal at 10 min, and declined toward baseline after 60 min. In addition, Fc receptor ligation increased the in vitro protein kinase activity of NK cell phosphotyrosyl proteins. We have also demonstrated that direct contact of NK cells with K562 tumor cells induced the rapid phosphorylation of distinct NK cell phosphotyrosyl proteins. Furthermore, the protein-tyrosine kinase inhibitor herbimycin A blocked NK cell cytotoxic function in a concentration-dependent manner. Our results suggest that protein tyrosine phosphorylation is an obligatory early proximal signal in activating the cytotoxic function of NK cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6279-6283
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 1991


  • Fc receptor
  • Lymphocytes
  • Protein tyrosine kinases
  • Protooncogenes
  • Signal transduction


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