Liver natural killer cells: subsets and roles in liver immunity

Hui Peng, Eddie Wisse*, Zhigang Tian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

111 Citations (Web of Science)


The liver represents a frontline immune organ that is constantly exposed to a variety of gut-derived antigens as a result of its unique location and blood supply. With a predominant role in innate immunity, the liver is enriched with various innate immune cells, among which natural killer (NK) cells play important roles in host defense and in maintaining immune balance. Hepatic NK cells were first described as 'pit cells' in the rat liver in the 1970s. Recent studies of NK cells in mouse and human livers have shown that two distinct NK cell subsets, liver-resident NK cells and conventional NK (cNK) cells, are present in this organ. Here, we review liver NK cell subsets in different species, revisiting rat hepatic pit cells and highlighting recent progress related to resident NK cells in mouse and human livers, and also discuss the dual roles of NK cells in liver immunity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-336
JournalCellular & Molecular Immunology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • conventional NK cell
  • liver
  • liver-resident NK cell
  • pit cell
  • tolerance

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