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J Immunol. 2009 Apr 1;182(7):4339-48. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0803329.

Interactions between human NK cells and macrophages in response to Salmonella infection.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, UK.


NK cells play a key role in host resistance to a range of pathogenic microorganisms, particularly during the initial stages of infection. NK cell interactions with cells infected with viruses and parasites have been studied extensively, but human bacterial infections have not been given the same attention. We studied crosstalk between human NK cells and macrophages infected with intracellular Salmonella. These macrophages activated NK cells, resulting in secretion of IFN-gamma and degranulation. Reciprocally, NK cell activation led to a dramatic reduction in numbers of intramacrophagic live bacteria. We identified three elements in the interaction of NK cells with infected macrophages. First, communication between NK cells and infected macrophages was contact-dependent. The second requirement was IL-2- and/or IL-15-dependent priming of NK cells to produce IFN-gamma. The third was activation of NK cells by IL-12 and IL-18, which were secreted by the Salmonella-infected macrophages. Adhesion molecules and IL-12Rbeta2 were enriched in the contact zone between NK cells and macrophages, consistent with contact- and IL-12/IL-18-dependent NK activation. Our results suggest that, in humans, bacterial clearance is consistent with a model invoking a "ménage à trois" involving NK cells, IL-2/IL-15-secreting cells, and infected macrophages.

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