The recognition of HLA-C molecules by specific inhibitory receptors is a crucial step in the regulation of natural killer (NK) cell function. Using soluble, recombinant HLA-C molecules and NK inhibitory receptors (NKIR, members of the immunoglobulin superfamily), we show that HLA-C binds to NKIR molecules with extremely fast association and dissociation rates, among the fastest of the immune system interactions so far studied. These kinetics may be essential for the biological function of NK cells, i.e., to facilitate the rapid immunosurveillance of cells for absent or diminished expression of class I MHC proteins.
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