Natural Killer Cells Blood Test
**Available through Quest only**
Dr. Lawenda has partnered with Walk-In Lab to provide a convenient, affordable and confidential blood testing option.
Natural killer (NK) cells are large granular lymphocytes that mediate MHC-unrestricted cytotoxicity against virus-infected and malignant cells and manufacture a number of cytokines following stimulation of the immune system.
Low numbers of NK cells are found in individuals who are susceptible to viral infections and inferior cancer outcomes.
What are NK cells?
Natural killer cells are aggressive cells of the immune system that play an important role in fighting cancer as well as viral-infected cells. While T cells are also important in cancer, natural killer cells are the “first responders” that are on the scene before the T cells are summoned. NK cells are a type of lymphocyte, which in turn are one of the types of white blood cells in the body. It’s thought that NK cells make up 10% or less of the white blood cells in the body.
How Natural Killer Cells Work for Immunity
As part of the innate immune system, natural killer cells don’t have to recognize a specific abnormality (antigen) on viral-infected cells or cancer cells. This is in contrast to some functions of immune cells which result from immunologic memory (the kind of functions for which immunizations are designed). If a cell is not recognized as being a normal part of the body, the natural killer cell can perform one of two functions:
Cytotoxic (Cell Killing)
Natural killer (NK) cells may be cytotoxic. In this process, the NK cell penetrates the cell and releases toxic granules into the abnormal cells. These granules then create holes in the cell membrane, allowing them to swell and burst and killing the cell on contact. Instead of bursting, the cell may instead be directed in a process of controlled death called apoptosis.
Natural killer cells may also be used as a form of immunoregulation. In this process, the NK cells regulate the function of the immune system by producing substances known as cytokines. You can visualize cytokines as the “hormones of the immune system” which stimulate other parts of the immune system. It is these other parts of the immune system that, once stimulated, resulting in the death of the cancer cell or viral-infected cell.
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