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Immunology. 2010 Feb;129(2):220-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2009.03171.x. Epub 2009 Aug 4.

Perturbation of the natural killer cell compartment during primary human immunodeficiency virus 1 infection primarily involving the CD56 bright subset.

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Division of Immunology, Laboratory of Clinical Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy.


We investigated the distribution of natural killer (NK) cell subsets, their activating and inhibitory receptors, and their cytolytic potential, in primary human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected (PHI) individuals at baseline and during 1 year of follow-up with or without antiretroviral therapy, and compared the results with those obtained in treatment-naïve, chronically HIV-infected (CHI) individuals, and HIV-seronegative (HN) healthy individuals. The proportion of the CD56(dim) and CD56(bright) subsets decreased with disease progression, whereas that of the CD56(-) CD16(+) subset increased. In the CD56(dim) subset, the proportion of cells with natural cytotoxicity receptors (NCRs) decreased with disease progression, and their cytolytic potential was reduced. Conversely, the CD56(bright) subset was characterized by a high proportion of NCR-positive, killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR)-positive NKG2A(+) cells in both CHI and PHI individuals, which was associated with an increase in their cytolytic potential. During the 1 year of follow-up, the PHI individuals with high viraemia levels and low CD4(+) T-cell counts who received highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) had a similar proportion of NK subsets to CHI individuals, while patients with low viraemia levels and high CD4(+) T-cell counts who remained untreated had values similar to those of the HN individuals. Our results indicate a marked perturbation of the NK cell compartment during HIV-1 infection that is multifaceted, starts early and is progressive, primarily involves the CD56(bright) subset, and is partially corrected by effective HAART.

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