Int J Med Sci 2021; 18(14):3236-3248. doi:10.7150/ijms.59898


The role of NK cells in fighting the virus infection and sepsis

Lu Ma1#, Qi Li2# ✉, Suna Cai2, Hourong Peng2, Ting Huyan2, Hui Yang2

1. The Hengyang Key Laboratory of Cellular Stress Biology, Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Hengyang Medical School, University of South China, Hengyang, Hunan 421001, China;
2. School of Life Sciences, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Xi'an, 710072, China.
# These authors contributed equally to the article.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Ma L, Li Q, Cai S, Peng H, Huyan T, Yang H. The role of NK cells in fighting the virus infection and sepsis. Int J Med Sci 2021; 18(14):3236-3248. doi:10.7150/ijms.59898. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Natural killer cells, one of the important types of innate immune cells, play a pivotal role in the antiviral process in vivo. It has been shown that increasing NK cell activity may promote the alleviation of viral infections, even severe infection-induced sepsis. Given the current state of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) global pandemic, clarifying the anti-viral function of NK cells would be helpful for revealing the mechanism of host immune responses and decipher the progression of COVID-19 and providing important clues for combating this pandemic. In this review, we summarize the roles of NK cells in viral infection and sepsis as well as the potential possibilities of NK cell-based immunotherapy for treating COVID-19.

Keywords: Natural killer cells, Viral infection, Sepsis, COVID-19