The immune system must be highly regulated to obtain optimal immune responses for the elimination of pathogens without causing undue side effects. This tight regulation involves complex interactions between membrane proteins on leukocytes. Members of the signal-regulatory protein (SIRP) family, which are expressed mainly by myeloid cells, provide one example of these regulatory membrane proteins. There are three SIRP-family genes that encode proteins that have similar extracellular regions but different signalling potentials, and are therefore known as 'paired receptors'. In this Review, we describe recent studies defining the ligands of the SIRP-family members, with particular emphasis on relating the molecular interactions of these proteins to their role in immune-cell regulation.
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