NK cells are a subpopulation of large granular lymphocytes. They are able to recognize and lyse a wide variety of virally infected or neoplastic target cells without previous sensitization or MHC restriction. The molecules involved in target recognition and subsequent triggering of the killing process are still undefined. Recently, a 30-kDa protein highly expressed on rat NK cells and capable of mediating transmembrane signaling was identified and the gene coding for it cloned and sequenced. To better understand the role of this protein in NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity, we cloned its mouse homologue by cross-hybridization of the rat gene to a cDNA library generated from highly purified mouse lymphokine-activated NK cells. Three messages, differing in size and sequence and encoded by different genes, are specifically cotranscribed in mouse NK cells. The protein products of this gene family express the lectin-like motif characteristic of type II transmembrane molecules. Both the rat and mouse proteins have conserved tyrosine and serine residues in their cytoplasmatic portion that are potential phosphorylation sites. They also share a sequence that could be the binding site of the P56lck tyrosine kinase. These observations are consistent with the signaling function hypothesized for these proteins.

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