Natural killer (NK) cells provide protection against infectious pathogens and cancer. For decades it has been appreciated that two major NK cell subsets (CD56bright and CD56dim) exist in humans and have distinct anatomical localization patterns, phenotypes, and functions in immunity. In light of this traditional NK cell dichotomy, it is now clear that the spectrum of human NK cell diversity is much broader than originally appreciated as a result of variegated surface receptor, intracellular signaling molecule, and transcription factor expression; tissue-specific imprinting; and foreign antigen exposure. The recent discoveries of tissue-resident NK cell developmental intermediates, non-NK innate lymphoid cells, and the capacity for NK cells to adapt and differentiate into long-lived memory cells has added further complexity to this field. Here we review our current understanding of the breadth and generation of human NK cell diversity.
Recent advances in the field of human natural killer cell biology have revealed that there is a remarkably high amount of cellular diversity within different tissues. Freud et al. review these advances and provide insight into the generation of natural killer cell diversity and its roles in innate immunity.