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The outcome of an encounter between a cytotoxic cell and a potential target cell depends on the balance of signals from inhibitory and activating receptors. Natural Killer group 2D (NKG2D) has recently emerged as a major activating receptor on T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. In both humans and mice, multiple different genes encode ligands for NKG2D, and these ligands are non-classical major histocompatibility complex class I molecules. The NKG2D-ligand interaction triggers an activating signal in the cell expressing NKG2D and this promotes cytotoxic lysis of the cell expressing the ligand. Most normal tissues do not express ligands for NKG2D, but ligand expression has been documented in tumour and virus-infected cells, leading to lysis of these cells. Tight regulation of ligand expression is important. If there is inappropriate expression in normal tissues, this will favour autoimmune processes, whilst failure to up-regulate the ligands in pathological conditions would favour cancer development or dissemination of intracellular infection.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





439 - 447


Animals, Cytotoxicity, Immunologic, Humans, Killer Cells, Natural, Ligands, Lymphocyte Activation, Mice, NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K, Neoplasms, Protein Binding, Receptors, Immunologic, Receptors, Natural Killer Cell, Signal Transduction