Natural killer cells (NK) represent a population of lymphocytes involved in innate immune response. In addition to their role in anti-viral and anti-tumor defense, they also regulate several aspects of the allo-immune response in kidney transplant recipients. Growing evidence suggests a key role of NK cells in the pathogenesis of immune-mediated graft damage in kidney transplantation. Specific NK cell subsets are associated with operational tolerance in kidney transplant patients. On the other side, allo-reactive NK cells are associated with chronic antibody-mediated rejection and graft loss. Moreover, NK cells can prime the adaptive immune system and promote the migration of other immune cells, such as dendritic cells, into the graft leading to an increased allo-immune response and, eventually, to chronic graft rejection. Finally, activated NK cells can infiltrate the transplanted kidney and cause a direct graft damage. Interestingly, immunosuppression can influence NK cell numbers and function, thus causing an increased risk of post-transplant neoplasia or infection. In this review, we will describe how these cells can influence the innate and the adaptive immune response in kidney transplantation and how immunosuppression can modulate NK behavior.
- innate and adaptive immune response
- natural killer cells
- kidney graft rejection