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Cancer Cell death Cell cycle Cytoskeleton Exo/endocytosis Differentiation Division Organelles Signalling Stem cells Trafficking
Cell Biology International (2008) 32, 188–197 (Printed in Great Britain)
Phenotypically and functionally distinct subsets of natural killer cells in human PBMCs
Yan‑ying Fan, Bin‑yan Yang and Chang‑you Wu*
Department of Immunology, Zhongshan School of Medicine, Sun Yat-Sen University, 74 Zhong-Shan 2nd Road, Guangzhou 510080, PR China


Human natural killer (NK) cells are one major component of lymphocytes that mediate early protection against viruses and tumor cells, and play an important role in immune regulatory functions. In this study, we demonstrated that human NK cells could be divided into four subsets, CD56hiCD16, CD56loCD16, CD56+CD16+ and CD56CD16+, based on the expression of cell surface CD56 and CD16 molecules. Phenotypic analysis of NK cell subsets indicated that the expression of activation markers, adhesion molecules, memory cell markers, inhibitory and activating receptors, and intracellular proteins (granzyme B and perforin) were heterogeneous. Following interleukin (IL)-2 stimulation, interferon-γ was preferentially produced by CD56+CD16 NK cells and this subset showed more proliferative capacity. The cytolytic activity of both CD56+CD16 and CD56+/−CD16+ subsets could be augmented in response to IL-2. The data provided a new definition for NK cell subsets demonstrating their phenotypic and functional diversity and possible stage of NK cell differentiation in peripheral blood.

Key words: Natural killer cells, Phenotype, Cytokine production, Proliferation, Cytotoxicity.

*Corresponding author. Tel./fax: +86 20 8733 1552.

Received 12 April 2007/28 June 2007; accepted 27 August 2007


ISSN Print: 1065-6995
ISSN Electronic: 1095-8355
Published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the International Federation for Cell Biology (IFCB)