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Clin Exp Immunol. 2011 Sep;165(3):352-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2011.04431.x. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Activation of natural killer cells by hepatitis C virus particles in vitro.

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Medical Clinic IV, University Hospital of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.


Little is known about the ability of hepatitis C virus (HCV) to alter early innate immune responses in infected patients. Previous studies have shown that natural killer (NK) cells are functionally impaired after interaction of recombinant HCV glycoprotein E2 with the co-stimulatory CD81 molecule in vitro; however, the functional consequences of a prolonged contact of NK cells with HCV particles have remained unclear. We have examined the phenotypes of purified, interleukin-2-activated NK cells from healthy donors and HCV genotype 1b patients after culture for 5 days with HCV pseudoparticles (HCVpp) and serum samples containing HCV genotype 1b. NK cells from healthy donors and chronic HCV patients were found to up-regulate receptors associated with activation (NKp46, NKp44, NKp30, NKG2D), while NK receptors from the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor family (KIR/CD158), predominantly having an inhibitory function, were significantly down-modulated after culture in the presence of HCV particles compared with control cultures of NK cells. HCV-infected sera and HCVpp elicited significantly higher secretion of the NK effector lymphokines interferon-γ and tumour necrosis factor-α. Furthermore, HCV stimulated the cytotoxic potential of NK cells from normal donors and patients. The enhanced activation of NK cells after prolonged culture with HCVpp or HCV-containing sera for 5 days suggests that these innate effector cells may play an important role in viral control during early phases of HCV infection.

© 2011 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Immunology © 2011 British Society for Immunology.

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