Natural killer (NK) cells express inhibitory receptors for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigens, preventing attack against healthy cells. House cytomegalovirus (MCMV) encodes an MHC-like protein (m157) that binds to an inhibitory NK cell receptor in certain MCMV-susceptible mice. In MCMV-resistant mice, this viral protein engages a related activating receptor (Ly49H) and confers host protection. These activating and inhibitory receptors are highly homologous, suggesting the possibility that one evolved from the other in response to selective pressure imposed by the pathogen.
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