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Clin Exp Immunol. 1992 Nov;90(2):181-7.

Natural killer (NK) cell activity during HIV infection: a decrease in NK activity is observed at the clonal level and is not restored after in vitro long-term culture of NK cells.

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Immunopathology and Immunohaematology Service, Pasteur Institute, Paris, France.


NK cell activity is impaired in HIV-infected patients. The mechanisms behind the altered NK functions are not clear, and conflicting data concerning NK and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) activity have been reported. In order to investigate whether this impairment is also observed at the clonal level and whether it is related to a defect at the target cell binding and/or the post-binding level, we evaluated highly purified NK cell lines and cloned NK cells obtained from 22 HIV-infected patients at different stages of disease and compared them with normal controls for their ability to: (i) kill K-562 and U-937 cell lines using a 51Cr release assay; (ii) bind and kill K-562 and U-937 cells at the single cell binding level; (iii) release NK cytotoxic factor (NKCF), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma); (iv) kill anti-IgM preincubated Daudi cell line (ADCC activity). This study with cloned NK cells or NK cell lines from HIV-infected individuals showed: (i) a decrease in their lytic capability against target cell lines; (ii) a low ability to form conjugates with K-562 and U-937 cell lines with respect to controls; (iii) a decreased ability to kill bound target cells; (iv) low levels of released NKCF, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma after incubation with U-937 cells. Taken together, these findings suggest that the impaired NK cell function during HIV infection is also observed at the clonal level and is related to defects both at the target and post-binding levels. However, the precise mechanisms remain to be determined. The inability to restore normal NK activity after long-term culture in the presence of high levels of recombinant IL-2 is in agreement with the hypothesis of a 'general anergic process' during HIV infection.

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