Purpose of review: Inborn errors of human natural killer (NK) cells may affect the development of these cells, their function, or both. There are two broad categories of genetic defects of NK cell development, depending on whether the deficiency is apparently specific to NK cells or clearly affects multiple hematopoietic lineages. We review here recent progress in the genetic dissection of these NK deficiencies (NKDs).
Recent findings: Patients with severe combined immunodeficiencies bearing mutations of adenosine deaminase, adenylate kinase 2, interleukin-2 receptor gamma chain, and Janus kinase 3 genes present NKDs and are prone to a broad range of infections. Patients with GATA binding protein 2 deficiency are susceptible to both mycobacterial and viral infections, and display NKDs and a lack of monocytes. Rare patients with mini chromosomal maintenance 4 deficiency display an apparently selective NKD associated with viral infections, but they also display various nonhematopoietic phenotypes, including adrenal insufficiency and growth retardation.
Summary: These studies have initiated a genetic dissection of the development of human NK cells. Further studies are warranted, including the search for genetic causes of NKD in particular. This research may lead to the discovery of molecules specifically controlling the development of NK cells and to improvements in our understanding of the hitherto elusive function of these cells in humans.