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J Immunol. 1999 Oct 15;163(8):4473-80.

Up-regulation of NK cytotoxic activity via IL-15 induction by different viruses: a comparative study.

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  • 1Laboratory of Immunovirology, Department of Microbiology, University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


IL-15 is a recently identified cytokine that belongs to the four alpha-helix bundle cytokine family and possesses biological activities similar to those of IL-2. Its ability to induce effectors of NK activity suggests its involvement in innate immunity. In this study, we analyzed the effect of different viruses (HSV, EBV, respiratory syncitial virus, vesicular stomatitis virus, influenza virus, reovirus, and Sendai virus) on the up-regulation of NK activity in vitro. Exposure of human PBMC to the these viruses resulted in an immediate up-regulation of NK activity of PBMC via IL-15 induction; this effect was abrogated in the presence of mAbs to IL-15. Results of experiments conducted in parallel using mAbs to IL-15, as well as to other cytokines (IL-2, IL-12, IFN-gamma, and TNF-alpha), clearly indicated that IL-15 was specifically responsible for the observed effect. Furthermore, supernatants of virus-infected PBMC cultures significantly enhanced NK activity of uninfected PBMC in vitro. An increase of IL-15 protein levels 20 h postinfection was also confirmed in a bioassay using the IL-2-dependent cell line CTLL. Kinetic analysis of IL-15 mRNA expression using a semiquantitative RT-PCR revealed that the level of IL-15 messages peaked at different time points (up to 12 h) postinfection, depending on the nature of the virus. Taken together, these results suggest that the IL-15 response of the host to viral infection and the subsequent NK cell activation represent an important effector mechanism of the innate immune surveillance of the host against viral infections.

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