Since discovery of the leukocyte subpopulation called "natural killer (NK) cells," researchers have been studying what these "lymphocytes that act like phagocytes" do. Now, Salt Lake City investigators have clues as to what may happen in the absence of NK cells.
The team, from the University of Utah College of Medicine and Latter-Day Saints Hospital, assayed for NK cell activity in 16 patients with idiopathic, dilated (congestive) cardiomyopathy. This disorder, while not well understood, is believed to involve immunologic and viral factors.
The activity of the patients' mononuclear lymphocytes was assayed with a cell line commonly used as a "target" for NK cells. Results showed that NK cell activity was virtually absent in eight of the 16 patients. When those eight patients were retested six months later, NK cell activity had returned to normal in one—the only one among the eight who had quickly recovered from the cardiomyopathy.