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Immune Netw. 2013 Oct;13(5):168-76. doi: 10.4110/in.2013.13.5.168. Epub 2013 Oct 26.

The natural killer cell response to HCV infection.

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Storr Liver Unit, Westmead Millennium Institute and Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.


In the last few years major progress has been made in better understanding the role of natural killer (NK) cells in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. This includes multiple pathways by which HCV impairs or limits NK cells activation. Based on current genetic and functional data, a picture is emerging where only a rapid and strong NK cell response early on during infection which results in strong T cell responses and possible subsequent clearance, whereas chronic HCV infection is associated with dysfunctional or biased NK cells phenotypes. The hallmark of this NK cell dysfunction is persistent activation promoting ongoing hepatitis and hepatocyte damage, while being unable to clear HCV due to impaired IFN-γ responses. Furthermore, some data suggests certain chronically activated subsets that are NKp46(high) may be particularly active against hepatic stellate cells, a key player in hepatic fibrogenesis. Finally, the role of NK cells during HCV therapy, HCV recurrence after liver transplant and hepatocellular carcinoma are discussed.


Chronic infection; Hepatitis C virus; Natural killer cell; Viral hepatitis

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