Although the optimal donor for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is a human leukocyte antigen-matched sibling, 75% of patients do not have a match, and alternatives are matched unrelated volunteers, unrelated umbilical cord blood units, and full-haplotype-mismatched family members. To cure leukemia, allogeneic HSCT relies on donor T cells in the allograft, which promote engraftment, eradicate malignant cells, and reconstitute immunity. Here, we focus on the open issues of rejection, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), and infections and the benefits of natural killer (NK) cell alloreactivity and its underlying mechanisms. Donor-versus-recipient NK cell alloreactivity derives from a mismatch between inhibitory receptors for self-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules on donor NK clones and the MHC class I ligands on recipient cells. These NK clones sense the missing expression of the self-MHC class I allele on the allogeneic targets and mediate alloreactions. HSCT from 'NK alloreactive' donors controls acute myeloid relapse without causing GVHD. We review the translation of NK cell recognition of missing self into the clinical practice of allogeneic hematopoietic transplantation and discuss how it has opened innovative perspectives in the cure of leukemia.
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