Thursday, 22 August 2013 13:21

Dortmund: Protective mechanism of natural killer cells clarified Featured

Prof. Dr. Carsten Watzl and his work group “Immunology” at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund have decrypted a protective mechanism of the so-called natural killer cells, an important immune system cell type.

The workgroup focuses on the so-called natural killer cells (NK cells), which belong to lymphocytes as part of the innate immune system. They can recognise and kill abnormal cells, such as tumor cells and virus-infected cells. In doing so, NK-cells set free toxic granules, such as perforin and proteases, which eliminate the dangerous target cells.

One question was how the NK cells protect themselves against these substances. Prof. Watzl and his team have now been able to identify one protective mechanism. An important glycoprotein on the surface of NK cells, the so-called CD107a, and to a lesser extent a second glycoprotein, CD107b, protect the cells against destruction during the release of the toxic substances perforin and proteases. If there is sufficient CD107a on the walls of the NK cells, perforin cannot bind and damage the cell wall, so that the NK cells themselves are not damaged by the released cytotoxins.

The researchers now want to investigate whether a temporary elimination of this “protective shield” has a positive influence on the immune response in allergic or auto-immune diseases, as natural killer cells are not only involved in fighting cancer, but also in the flawed immune response involved in autoimmune diseases and allergies.

The goal is to develop a gentler method for treating of autoimmune diseases and allergies.

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Carsten Watzl
Phone: +49 231 1084-233
E-mail: Watzl [at]

Original paper:
André Cohnen, Samuel C. Chiang, Ana Stojanovic, Hendrik Schmidt, Maren Claus, Paul Juicy, Ottmar Janssen, Adelheid Cerwenka, Yenan T. Bryceson Watzl and Carsten (2013): Surface CD107a/LAMP-1 protects natural killer cells from degranulation-associated damage. Blood 122: 1411-1418.

Source (in German):