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BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 413982, 11 pages
Review Article

NK Cells in Mucosal Defense against Infection

Department of Molecular Biology, 6005 Agriculture C Building, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, USA

Received 27 June 2014; Accepted 31 July 2014; Published 14 August 2014

Academic Editor: Joshua J. Obar

Copyright © 2014 Daria Ivanova et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Conventional natural killer cells (NK cells) provide continual surveillance for cancer and rapid responses to infection. They develop in the bone marrow, emerge as either NK precursor cells, immature, or mature cells, and disperse throughout the body. In the periphery NK cells provide critical defense against pathogens and cancer and are noted to develop features of adaptive immune responses. In the tightly regulated and dynamic mucosal tissues, they set up residency via unknown mechanisms and from sources that are yet to be defined. Once resident, they appear to have the ability to functionally mature dependent on the mucosal tissue microenvironment. Mucosal NK cells play a pivotal role in early protection through their cytolytic function and IFNγ production against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasitic infections. This review presents what is known about NK cell development and phenotypes of mucosal tissue resident conventional NK cells. The question of how they come to reside in their tissues and published data on their function against pathogens during mucosal infection are discussed. Dissecting major questions highlighted in this review will be important to the further understanding of NK cell homing and functional diversity and improve rational design of NK cell based therapies against mucosal infection.