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J Leukoc Biol. 1989 Jul;46(1):75-83.

Natural killer cell function in patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and related diseases.

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  • 1Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


This review describes current knowledge of changes in natural killer (NK) cell function in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related disorders, vis-à-vis associated abnormalities in NK cytolytic function, NK cell subset distribution, NK cytopathology, and lymphokine regulation. NK cells, which are closely associated with large granular lymphocytes, are spontaneously cytotoxic to tumor and virally infected targets. As such, they may play a role in natural resistance to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-associated disorders and other opportunistic infections. Yet, peripheral blood NK activity is frequently reduced in patients with HIV-1-induced disease. NK cells are heterogeneous both with respect to their expression of serologically defined membrane antigens and functional activity. In AIDS-related syndromes, there appears to be a diminution of the NK pool (CD16+ cells) involved in cytolytic function, while there is an elevation of the NK pool that coexpresses NK (Leu 7+) and T (CD8+) cell markers, which show little or no involvement in cytolytic function. The impairment of in vitro NK function is not associated with a reduced frequency of lytic conjugates of effectors and target cells nor with the recycling capacity of these effector cells but rather is associated with defects in the NK cell lytic machinery following formation of such conjugates. NK cells in AIDS patients show an impairment in effector cell microtubule rearrangement following target cell interaction. The causes of NK cell dysfunction in AIDS-related disorders remain unknown. NK cells do not appear to express the CD4 epitope of the HIV receptor, nor have they been demonstrated to be susceptible to infection by HIV-1. There appears to be a preponderance of immature NK cells and a lymphokine imbalance in patients with HIV-1 associated disease. Interleukin-2 can partially restore diminished in vitro NK function. Elucidation of the involvement of the NK compartment in natural resistance to HIV-1 merits further investigation.

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