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J Immunol. 1998 Sep 15;161(6):2938-43.

HIV-1 Tat inhibits human natural killer cell function by blocking L-type calcium channels.

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  • 1Laboratory of Tumor Immunology, Scientific Institute San Raffaele, Milan, Italy.


Herein we show that functional phenylalkylamine-sensitive L-type calcium channels are expressed by human NK cells and are involved in the killing of tumor targets. Blocking of these channels by phenylalkylamine drugs does not affect effector/target cell binding but inhibits the release of serine esterases responsible for cytotoxicity. Interestingly, treatment of NK cells with HIV-1 Tat, which is known to affect several calcium-mediated events in immune cells, impairs their cytotoxic activity. In addition, Tat inhibits the rise in intracellular free calcium concentration upon cross-linking of the adhesion molecule CD11a, engaged during effector/target cell interaction, and the activation molecule CD16. Exogenous Tat does not influence NK-target cell binding but prevents NK cell degranulation. We propose that the molecular structure(s) on NK cells mediating the inhibitory effects HIV-1 Tat belong to L-type calcium channels, based on three lines of evidence: 1) binding of phenylalkylamine derivatives to these channels is cross-inhibited by Tat; 2) L-type calcium channels from NK cell lysates bind to Tat linked to Sepharose columns; 3) the inhibitory effect of HIV-1 Tat on NK cell function is prevented by the agonist of L-type calcium channels, Bay K 8644. Altogether, these results suggest that exogenous Tat is deeply involved in the impairment of NK cell function during HIV-1 infection.

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