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Keywords:

  • natural killer cell receptors;
  • natural killer cell differentiation;
  • natural killer cell cytokine production;
  • cytolytic activity;
  • haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Natural killer (NK) cells are important components of the innate immunity and play a key role in host defense by virtue of their ability to release cytokines and to mediate cytolytic activity against tumor cells and virus-infected cells. NK cells were first described more than 30 years ago on the basis of their peculiar functional capabilities. Subsequently, thanks to the production of a variety of monoclonal antibodies, it became possible to identify surface receptors and markers expressed by NK cells as well as to characterize their functional properties. Here, we provide a brief historical overview about the discovery of human NK cell receptors and we delineate the main phenotypic features of differentiating and mature NK cells in healthy donors as well as their alterations in certain pathologic conditions. © 2013 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry