Autoimmune diseases generally result from a glitch in the immune system that causes it to attack healthy parts of the body, instead of performing its usual role of guarding against harmful invaders, like bacteria and viruses. This malfunction in the immune system leads to damage of specific or multiple organs. Multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes mellitus, and psoriasis are several examples of autoimmune diseases.

Recent studies have demonstrated the relationship between innate immunity and autoimmune diseases. Natural killer (NK) cells, which are key components of the innate immune system, hold a significant therapeutic potential in autoimmune diseases. As a frontliner of the immune system, NK cells have regulatory properties that are able to kill abnormal cells rapidly and produce cytokines, in order to regulate the immune response in autoimmune diseases. 

NK cells have a protective role in autoimmune diseases that involves direct killing of immature dendritic cells, autoreactive T and B cells. Apart from that, NK cells are also involved in the secretion of cytokines such as IL-10 and TGF-β to block the activation and effector functions of autoreactive T and B cells, as well as to exert a powerful anti-inflammatory function against autoimmune diseases.

In short, NK cells serve an immunoregulatory function in the maintenance of immune homeostasis. Thereby, NK cells harbour great potential for utilization in a number of therapeutic interventions, especially in autoimmune diseases and cancer.

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1. Kucuksezer, U.C., Aktas Cetin, E., Esen, F., Tahrali, I., Akdeniz, N., Gelmez, M.Y. and Deniz, G. (2021). The role of natural killer cells in autoimmune diseases. Frontiers in immunology, 12, p.79.

2. Liu, M., Liang, S. and Zhang, C. (2021). NK cells in autoimmune diseases: protective or pathogenic?. Frontiers in Immunology, 12, p.701.