Airway natural killer cells and bacteria in health and disease.
Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphoid cells at the interface between innate and adaptive immunity and mostly studied for their important roles in viral infections and malignant tumors. They can kill diseased cells and produce cytokines and chemokines, thereby shaping the adaptive immune response. Nowadays, NK cells are considered as a strong weapon for cancer immunotherapy and can for example be transduced to express tumor-specific chimeric antigen receptors or harnessed with therapeutic antibodies such as the so-called NK engagers. Whereas a large body of literature exists about the antiviral and antitumoral properties of NK cells, their potential role in bacterial infections is not that well delineated. Furthermore, NK cells are much more heterogeneous than previously thought and have tissue-characteristic features and phenotypes. This review gives an overview of airway NK cells and their position within the immunological army dressed against bacterial infections in the upper and predominantly the lower respiratory tracts. Whereas it appears that in several infections, NK cells play a non-redundant and protective role, they can likewise act as rather detrimental. The use of mouse models and the difficulty of access to human airway tissues for ethical reasons might partly explain the divergent results. However, new methods are appearing that are likely to reduce the heterogeneity between studies and to give a more coherent picture in this field.