Natural killer (NK) cells are a subpopulation of large granular lymphocytes characterized by densely staining azurophilic granules. NK cells are able to recognize and lyse various virally infected or neoplastic target cells without previous sensitization or major histocompatibility complex restriction. A 60-kD disulfide-linked dimer, highly expressed on NK cells, was found capable of mediating transmembrane signaling. The gene encoding this signal transduction molecule was cloned and its nucleotide sequence determined. The encoded protein showed significant homology with a number of lectin-related membrane proteins that share receptor characteristics. This protein may function as a receptor able to selectively trigger NK cell activity.

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