Oscar Aguilar Alfaro, PhD

Assistant Professor
Microbiology and Immunology
Research Overview: 

The Aguilar Lab studies natural killer (NK) cells and are critical for protecting us from viral infections and cancers. They are innate lymphocytes that use cell surface NK receptors to distinguish between self and non-self (or altered-self). If a target cell has been identified as harmful, NK cells release cytotoxic granules that directly kill the target cell. The NK field has greatly advanced our understanding of these cells however, there remain many outstanding questions. Our lab is working to fill in some of these gaps:

  1. CD16 Fc receptor Biology. In comparing human and mouse NK cell activation through their CD16 Fc receptor, we discovered that these two species behave differently – a difference that is due to the CD3z adaptor molecule. Therefore, we are investigating ways to generate a mouse model with humanized CD16 function to address ways to harness NK cells more effectively through CD16 activation.
  2. Adaptive NK cells. We now appreciate that NK cells have the ability to generate adaptive-like responses, especially to cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, however, the signals that generate these specialized cells are not fully discovered. Therefore, we are investigating the signals that drive formation and maintenance of adaptive-like NK cells.
  3. Recognition and Immune Evasion by cancer and viruses. We are keen on investigating the mechanisms that viruses have evolved to evade NK cell recognition – importantly – investigating how tumor cells may employ similar mechanisms to suppress NK cell activation.

We work with human and mouse models to enhance our understanding of innate immunity as we work towards unlocking their therapeutic potential.

Primary Thematic Area: 
Secondary Thematic Area: 
Virology & Microbial Pathogenesis
Research Summary: 
NK cells, NK receptors, and NK ligands in viral immunity and tumor immunity.



Pretreatment with IL-15 and IL-18 rescues natural killer cells from granzyme B-mediated apoptosis after cryopreservation.

Nature communications

Berjis A, Muthumani D, Aguilar OA, Pomp O, Johnson O, Finck AV, Engel NW, Chen L, Plachta N, Scholler J, Lanier LL, June CH, Sheppard NC

PVRL2 Suppresses Antitumor Immunity through PVRIG- and TIGIT-independent Pathways.

Cancer immunology research

Yang J, Wang L, Byrnes JR, Kirkemo LL, Driks H, Belair CD, Aguilar OA, Lanier LL, Wells JA, Fong L, Blelloch R

ITAM-based receptors in natural killer cells.

Immunological reviews

Aguilar OA, Fong LK, Lanier LL

MICB Genomic Variant is Associated with NKG2D-mediated Acute Lung Injury and Death.

American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine

Aguilar OA, Qualls AE, Gonzalez-Hinojosa MDR, Obeidalla S, Kerchberger VE, Tsao T, Singer JP, Looney MR, Raymond W, Hays SR, Golden JA, Kukreja J, Shaver CM, Ware LB, Christie J, Diamond JM, Lanier LL, Greenland JR, Calabrese DR, LTOG Investigators

CCR5 drives NK cell-associated airway damage in pulmonary ischemia-reperfusion injury.

JCI insight

Santos J, Wang P, Shemesh A, Liu F, Tsao T, Aguilar OA, Cleary SJ, Singer JP, Gao Y, Hays SR, Golden J, Leard LE, Kleinhenz ME, Kolaitis NA, Shah RJ, Venado A, Kukreja J, Weigt SS, Belperio JA, Lanier LL, Looney MR, Greenland JR, Calabrese DR