Classification of human natural killer cells based on migration behavior and cytotoxic response

Bruno Vanherberghen, Per E. Olofsson, Elin Forslund, Michal Sternberg-Simon, Mohammad Ali Khorshidi, Simon Pacouret, Karolin Guldevall, Monika Enqvist, Karl Johan Malmberg, Ramit Mehr, Björn Önfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Despite intense scrutiny of the molecular interactions between natural killer (NK) and target cells, few studies have been devoted to dissection of the basic functional heterogeneity in individual NK cell behavior. Using a microchip-based, time-lapse imaging approach allowing the entire contact history of each NK cell to be recorded, in the present study, we were able to quantify how the cytotoxic response varied between individual NK cells. Strikingly, approximately half of the NK cells did not kill any target cells at all, whereas a minority of NK cells was responsible for a majority of the target cell deaths. These dynamic cytotoxicity data allowed categorization of NK cells into 5 distinct classes. A small but particularly active subclass of NK cells killed several target cells in a consecutive fashion. These "serial killers" delivered their lytic hits faster and induced faster target cell death than other NK cells. Fast, necrotic target cell death was correlated with the amount of perforin released by the NK cells. Our data are consistent with a model in which a small fraction of NK cells drives tumor elimination and inflammation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1334
Number of pages9
Issue number8
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2013


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