Natural Killer cells provide rapid responses to virus-infected cells, acting at around 3 days after infection, and respond to tumor formation. Typically, immune cells detect major histocompatibility complex (MHC) presented on infected cell surfaces, triggering cytokine release, causing lysis or apoptosis.
NK cells are unique, however, as they have the ability to recognize stressed cells in the absence of antibodies and MHC, allowing for a much faster immune reaction. They were named “natural killers” because of the initial notion that they do not require activation to kill cells that are missing “self” markers of MHC class 1.
IMAGE SOURCE: NIAID