NK Cell Disorders

Also known as: NK cell deficiency, natural killer cell deficiency.

What are NK cell disorders?

Natural killer, or NK cells are white blood (lymphocytes) cells which play an important role in the body’s immune system. They are part of a body’s mechanisms to control the spread of infection, destroy abnormal cells which develop in the body (like cancer cells), and when they function abnormally, they participate in the development of autoimmune diseases (where the body mistakenly attacks its own normal cells).

What causes NK cell disorders?

NK cell disorders are due to genetic mutations. They are hereditary (autosomal recessive trait) where one abnormal gene is passed from each parent (asymptomatic) to their child.

What are the symptoms of NK cell disorders? 

Frequent, recurrent infections, usually lungs (pneumonia)  and viral (herpes virus) are the most common symptoms of NK cell disorders. They are at increased risk for developing cancer.

What are NK cell disorder care options?

There is no specific treatment for NK cell disorders. Children with the disease will usually require more frequent courses of antibiotics, or other medications to fight off viral or fungal infections.

There appears to be evidence to suggest other therapies may enhance immune system functioning. These include ginseng, zinc, and perhaps L-arginine, astragalus, copper, beta-carotene and others. These (and any other non traditional therapies) should be discussed with your pediatrician prior to starting treatment.


Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: May 12, 2021 09:15 AM

Pediatric Allergy & Immunology

The Clinical Immunology Division evaluates recurrent infections, and suspected or confirmed immunodeficiency disorders. Our Miami location also evaluates HIV and fevers of unknown origin.

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Autoimmune Diseases

An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system (the body's natural defense system against bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders) mistakenly attacks its own organs and tissues. Learn more