Natural killer (NK) cells can be swiftly mobilized by danger signals and are among the earliest arrivals at target organs of disease. However, the role of NK cells in mounting inflammatory responses is often complex and sometimes paradoxical. Here, we examine the divergent phenotypic and functional features of NK cells, as deduced largely from experimental mouse models of pathophysiological responses in the liver, mucosal tissues, uterus, pancreas, joints and brain. Moreover, we discuss how organ-specific factors, the local microenvironment and unique cellular interactions may influence the organ-specific properties of NK cells.
Hantaviruses cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus cardio-pulmonary syndrome (HCPS; also called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)), both human diseases with high case-fatality rates. Endothelial cells are the main targets for hantaviruses. An intriguing observation in patients with HFRS and HCPS is that on one hand the virus infection leads to strong activation of CD8 T cells and NK cells, on the other hand no obvious destruction of infected endothelial cells is observed. Here, we provide an explanation for this dichotomy by showing that hantavirus-infected endothelial cells are protected from cytotoxic lymphocyte-mediated induction of apoptosis. When dissecting potential mechanisms behind this phenomenon, we discovered that the hantavirus nucleocapsid protein inhibits the enzymatic activity of both granzyme B and caspase 3. This provides a tentative explanation for the hantavirus-mediated block of cytotoxic granule-mediated apoptosis-induction, and hence the protection of infected cells from cytotoxic lymphocytes. These findings may explain why infected endothelial cells in hantavirus-infected patients are not destroyed by the strong cytotoxic lymphocyte response.
Rodent-born hantaviruses cause two severe emerging diseases with high case-fatality rates in humans; hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) in Eurasia and hantavirus cardio-pulmonary syndrome (HCPS; also called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)) in the Americas. A hallmark of HFRS/HCPS is increased vascular permeability. While endothelial cells are the main targets for hantaviruses, infection per se is not lytic. Patients suffering from HFRS and HCPS show remarkable strong cytotoxic lymphocyte responses including high numbers of activated NK cells and antigen-specific CD8 T cells. Hence, it has been suggested that cytotoxic lymphocyte-mediated killing of hantavirus-infected endothelial cells might contribute to HFRS/HCPS-pathogenesis. Here, we show that hantaviruses protect infected endothelial cells from being killed by cytotoxic lymphocytes. Further, we also show that hantaviruses inhibit apoptosis in general. Hantaviruses are negative-stranded RNA viruses encoding four structural proteins. Interestingly, the nucleocapsid protein was shown to inhibit the enzymatic functions of both granzyme B and caspase 3, two enzymes crucial for cytotoxic lymphocyte-mediated killing of virus-infected cells. Our study provides new insights into the interactions between hantaviruses, infected cells, and cytotoxic lymphocytes, and argues against a role for cytotoxic lymphocyte-mediated killing of virus-infected endothelial cells in causing HFRS/HCPS.
Invariant NKT cells are important in the activation and regulation of immune responses. They can also function as CD1d-restricted killer cells. However, the role of activating innate NK cell receptors expressed on NKT cells in triggering cytolytic function is poorly characterized. Here, we initially confirmed that the cellular stress-ligand receptor NKG2D is expressed on CD4− NKT cells, whereas most CD4+ NKT cells lack this receptor. Interestingly, NKG2D+ NKT cells frequently expressed perforin, and both NKG2D and perforin localized at the site of contact with NKG2D ligand-expressing target cells. CD4− NKT cells degranulated in response to NKG2D engagement in a redirected activation assay independently of stimulation via their invariant TCR. NKT cells killed P815 cells coated with anti-NKG2D mAb and CD1d-negative K562 tumor target cells in an NKG2D-dependent manner. Furthermore, NKG2D engagement co-stimulated TCR-mediated NKT cell activation in response to endogenous CD1d-presented ligands or suboptimal levels of anti-CD3 triggering. These data indicate that the CD4− subset of human NKT cells can mediate direct lysis of target cells via NKG2D engagement independently of CD1d, and that NKG2D also functions as a co-stimulatory receptor in these cells. NKG2D thus plays both a direct and a co-stimulatory role in the activation of NKT cells.
CD1d; NKT cells; NK cells; Innate immunity
Longitudinal studies of T cell immune responses during viral infections in humans are essential for our understanding of how effector T cell responses develop, clear infection, and provide long-lasting immunity. Here, following an outbreak of a Puumala hantavirus infection in the human population, we longitudinally analyzed the primary CD8 T cell response in infected individuals from the first onset of clinical symptoms until viral clearance. A vigorous CD8 T cell response was observed early following the onset of clinical symptoms, determined by the presence of high numbers of Ki67+CD38+HLA-DR+ effector CD8 T cells. This response encompassed up to 50% of total blood CD8 T cells, and it subsequently contracted in parallel with a decrease in viral load. Expression levels of perforin and granzyme B were high throughout the initial T cell response and likewise normalized following viral clearance. When monitoring regulatory components, no induction of regulatory CD4 or CD8 T cells was observed in the patients during the infection. However, CD8 as well as CD4 T cells exhibited a distinct expression profile of inhibitory PD-1 and CTLA-4 molecules. The present results provide insight into the development of the T cell response in humans, from the very onset of clinical symptoms following a viral infection to resolution of the disease.
Natural killer (NK) cells contribute to the defense against infected and transformed cells through the engagement of multiple germline-encoded activation receptors. Stimulation of the Fc receptor CD16 alone is sufficient for NK cell activation, whereas other receptors, such as 2B4 (CD244) and DNAM-1 (CD226), act synergistically. After receptor engagement, protein kinases play a major role in signaling networks controlling NK cell effector functions. However, it has not been characterized systematically which of all kinases encoded by the human genome (kinome) are involved in NK cell activation.
A kinase-selective phosphoproteome approach enabled the determination of 188 kinases expressed in human NK cells. Crosslinking of CD16 as well as 2B4 and DNAM-1 revealed a total of 313 distinct kinase phosphorylation sites on 109 different kinases. Phosphorylation sites on 21 kinases were similarly regulated after engagement of either CD16 or co-engagement of 2B4 and DNAM-1. Among those, increased phosphorylation of FYN, KCC2G (CAMK2), FES, and AAK1, as well as the reduced phosphorylation of MARK2, were reproducibly observed both after engagement of CD16 and co-engagement of 2B4 and DNAM-1. Notably, only one phosphorylation on PAK4 was differentally regulated.
The present study has identified a significant portion of the NK cell kinome and defined novel phosphorylation sites in primary lymphocytes. Regulated phosphorylations observed in the early phase of NK cell activation imply these kinases are involved in NK cell signaling. Taken together, this study suggests a largely shared signaling pathway downstream of distinct activation receptors and constitutes a valuable resource for further elucidating the regulation of NK cell effector responses.
Human natural killer (NK) cell differentiation, characterized by a loss of NKG2A in parallel with the acquisition of NKG2C, KIRs, and CD57 is stimulated by a number of virus infections, including infection with human cytomegalovirus (CMV), hantavirus, chikungunya virus, and HIV-1. Here, we addressed if HSV-2 infection in a similar way drives NK cell differentiation towards an NKG2A-NKG2C+KIR+CD57+ phenotype. In contrast to infection with CMV, hantavirus, chikungunya virus, and HIV-1, recurrent HSV-2 infection did not yield an accumulation of highly differentiated NK cells in human peripheral blood. This outcome indicates that human HSV-2 infection has no significant imprinting effect on the human NK cell repertoire.
Acute hantavirus infection in humans triggers a rapid expansion and long-term persistence of NK cells.
Natural killer (NK) cells are known to mount a rapid response to several virus infections. In experimental models of acute viral infection, this response has been characterized by prompt NK cell activation and expansion followed by rapid contraction. In contrast to experimental model systems, much less is known about NK cell responses to acute viral infections in humans. We demonstrate that NK cells can rapidly expand and persist at highly elevated levels for >60 d after human hantavirus infection. A large part of the expanding NK cells expressed the activating receptor NKG2C and were functional in terms of expressing a licensing inhibitory killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) and ability to respond to target cell stimulation. These results demonstrate that NK cells can expand and remain elevated in numbers for a prolonged period of time in humans after a virus infection. In time, this response extends far beyond what is considered normal for an innate immune response.
The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii can actively infect any nucleated cell type, including cells from the immune system. In the present study, we observed that a large number of natural killer (NK) cells were infected by T. gondii early after intraperitoneal inoculation of parasites into C57BL/6 mice. Interestingly, one mechanism of NK cell infection involved NK cell-mediated targeting of infected dendritic cells (DC). Perforin-dependent killing of infected DC led to active egress of infectious parasites that rapidly infected adjacent effector NK cells. Infected NK cells were not efficiently targeted by other NK cells. These results suggest that rapid transfer of T. gondii from infected DC to effector NK cells may contribute to the parasite's sequestration and shielding from immune recognition shortly after infection.
Innate and adaptive cellular immunity is initiated, directed and regulated by a vast array of cell surface receptors. Attempts to harness the cellular immune system in translational settings such as immunotherapy and vaccine development require tools to accurately describe and isolate lymphocytes with specific characteristics. One such tool, flow cytometry, is undergoing a revolution in instrumentation and reagents, providing opportunities for high resolution phenotypic and functional analysis of lymphocytes. Here, we demonstrate how nine-color flow cytometry can be adapted, optimized and applied to investigate the phenotypic complexity and functional heterogeneity of human lymphocyte subsets. We provide examples of studies of adaptive T cell responses against viruses, as well as the assessment of CD1d-restricted NKT cells and NK cells. We discuss the importance of this technology for detailed investigations of lymphocyte subsets in studies of infectious diseases and cancer.
Flow cytometry; FACS; T cells; NKT cells; NK cells; CD1d; Fluorochromes
Mouse MHC class I H-2Db in complex with human β2m and the LCMV-derived peptide gp33 has been produced and crystallized. Resolution of the structure of this complex combined with the structural comparison with the previously solved crystal structure of H-2Db/mβ2m/gp33 should lead to a better understanding of how the β2m subunit affects the overall conformation of MHC complexes as well as the stability of the presented peptides.
β2-Microglobulin (β2m) is non-covalently linked to the major histocompatibility (MHC) class I heavy chain and interacts with CD8 and Ly49 receptors. Murine MHC class I can bind human β2m (hβ2m) and such hybrid molecules are often used in structural and functional studies. The replacement of mouse β2m (mβ2m) by hβ2m has important functional consequences for MHC class I complex stability and specificity, but the structural basis for this is unknown. To investigate the impact of species-specific β2m subunits on MHC class I conformation, murine MHC class I H-2Db in complex with hβ2m and the peptide gp33 derived from lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) has been expressed, refolded in vitro and crystallized. Crystals containing two complexes per asymmetric unit and belonging to the space group P21, with unit-cell parameters a = 68.1, b = 65.2, c = 101.9 Å, β = 102.4°, were obtained.
MHC class I H-2Db; β2-microglobulin
The relative contribution to cytotoxicity of each of the multiple NK cell activation receptors has been difficult to assess. Using Drosophila insect cells, which express ligands of human NK cell receptors, we show that target cell lysis by resting NK cells is controlled by different receptor signals for cytolytic granule polarization and degranulation. Intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 on insect cells was sufficient to induce polarization of granules, but not degranulation, in resting NK cells. Conversely, engagement of the Fc receptor CD16 by rabbit IgG on insect cells induced degranulation without specific polarization. Lysis by resting NK cells occurred when polarization and degranulation were induced by the combined presence of ICAM-1 and IgG on insect cells. Engagement of receptor 2B4 by CD48 on insect cells induced weak polarization and no degranulation. However, coengagement of 2B4 and CD16 by their respective ligands resulted in granule polarization and cytotoxicity in the absence of leukocyte functional antigen-1–mediated adhesion to target cells. These data show that cytotoxicity by resting NK cells is controlled tightly by separate or cooperative signals from different receptors for granule polarization and degranulation.
Adaptive and innate immunity have been implicated in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Given their abundance in the lesion, lipids might be targets of the atherosclerosis-associated immune response. Natural killer T (NKT) cells can recognize lipid antigens presented by CD1 molecules. We have explored the role of CD1d-restricted NKT cells in atherosclerosis by using apolipoprotein E–deficient (apoE−/−) mice, a hypercholesterolemic mouse model that develops atherosclerosis. ApoE−/− mice crossed with CD1d−/− (CD1d−/−apoE−/−) mice exhibited a 25% decrease in lesion size compared with apoE−/− mice. Administration of α-galactosylceramide, a synthetic glycolipid that activates NKT cells via CD1d, induced a 50% increase in lesion size in apoE−/− mice, whereas it did not affect lesion size in apoE−/−CD1d−/− mice. Treatment was accompanied by an early burst of cytokines (IFNγ, MCP-1, TNFα, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, and IL-6) followed by sustained increases in IFNγ and IL-4 transcripts in the spleen and aorta. Early activation of both T and B cells was followed by recruitment of T and NKT cells to the aorta and activation of inflammatory genes. These results show that activation of CD1d-restricted NKT cells exacerbates atherosclerosis.
α-galactosylceramide; cytokines; inflammation; apolipoprotein E; mice
Dendritic cells (DC) of the CD11c+ myeloid phenotype have been implicated in the spread of scrapie in the host. Previously, we have shown that CD11c+ DC can cause a rapid degradation of proteinase K-resistant prion proteins (PrPSc) in vitro, indicating a possible role of these cells in the clearance of PrPSc. To determine the mechanisms of PrPSc degradation, CD11c+ DC that had been exposed to PrPSc derived from a neuronal cell line (GT1-1) infected with scrapie (ScGT1-1) were treated with a battery of protease inhibitors. Following treatment with the cysteine protease inhibitors (2S,3S)-trans-epoxysuccinyl-l-leucylamido-3-methylbutane (E-64c), its ethyl ester (E-64d), and leupeptin, the degradation of PrPSc was inhibited, while inhibitors of serine and aspartic and metalloproteases (aprotinin, pepstatin, and phosphoramidon) had no effect. An endogenous degradation of PrPSc in ScGT1-1 cells was revealed by inhibiting the expression of cellular PrP (PrPC) by RNA interference, and this degradation could also be inhibited by the cysteine protease inhibitors. Our data show that PrPSc is proteolytically cleaved preferentially by cysteine proteases in both CD11c+ DC and ScGT1-1 cells and that the degradation of PrPSc by proteases is different from that of PrPC. Interference by protease inhibitors with DC-induced processing of PrPSc has the potential to modify prion spread, clearance, and immunization in a host.
The immune system plays an important role in facilitating the spread of prion infections from the periphery to the central nervous system. CD11c+ myeloid dendritic cells (DC) could, due to their subepithelial location and their migratory capacity, be early targets for prion infection and contribute to the spread of infection. In order to analyze mechanisms by which these cells may affect prion propagation, we studied in vitro the effect of exposing such DC to scrapie-infected GT1-1 cells, which produce the scrapie prion protein PrPSc. In this system, the DC efficiently engulfed the infected GT1-1 cells. Unexpectedly, PrPSc, which is generally resistant to protease digestion, was processed and rapidly degraded. Based on this observation we speculate that CD11c+ DC may play a dual role in prion infections: on one hand they may facilitate neuroinvasion by transfer of the infectious agent as suggested from in vivo studies, but on the other hand they may protect against the infection by causing an efficient degradation of PrPSc. Thus, the migrating and highly proteolytic CD11c+ myeloid DC may affect the balance between propagation and clearance of PrPSc in the organism.
The present study was initiated to gain insight into the interaction between splenic dendritic cells (DC) and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium in vivo. Splenic phagocytic cell populations associated with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing bacteria and the bacterium-specific T-cell response were evaluated in mice given S. enterica serovar Typhimurium expressing GFP and ovalbumin. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that GFP-positive splenic DC (CD11c+ major histocompatibility complex class II-positive [MHC-II+] cells) were present following bacterial administration, and confocal microscopy showed that GFP-expressing bacteria were contained within CD11c+ MHC-II+ splenocytes. Furthermore, splenic DC and T cells were activated following Salmonella infection. This was shown by increased surface expression of CD86 and CD40 on CD11c+ MHC-II+ cells and increased CD44 and CD69 expression on CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Salmonella-specific gamma interferon (IFN-γ)-producing cells in both of these T-cell subsets, as well as cytolytic effector cells, were also generated in mice given live bacteria. The frequency of Salmonella-specific CD4+ T cells producing IFN-γ was greater than that of specific CD8+ T cells producing IFN-γ in the same infected animal. This supports the argument that the predominant source of IFN-γ production by cells of the specific immune response is CD4+ T cells. Finally, DC that phagocytosed live or heat-killed Salmonella in vitro primed bacterium-specific IFN-γ-producing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells as well as cytolytic effector cells following administration into naïve mice. Together these data suggest that DC are involved in priming naïve T cells to Salmonella in vivo.
The earliest contact between antigen and the innate immune system is thought to direct the subsequent antigen-specific T cell response. We hypothesized that cells of the innate immune system, such as natural killer (NK) cells, NK1.1+ T cells (NKT cells), and γ/δ T cells, may regulate the development of allergic airway disease. We demonstrate here that depletion of NK1.1+ cells (NK cells and NKT cells) before immunization inhibits pulmonary eosinophil and CD3+ T cell infiltration as well as increased levels of interleukin (IL)-4, IL-5, and IL-12 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in a murine model of allergic asthma. Moreover, systemic allergen-specific immunoglobulin (Ig)E and IgG2a levels and the number of IL-4 and interferon γ–producing splenic cells were diminished in mice depleted of NK1.1+ cells before the priming regime. Depletion of NK1.1+ cells during the challenge period only did not influence pulmonary eosinophilic inflammation. CD1d1 mutant mice, deficient in NKT cells but with normal NK cells, developed lung tissue eosinophilia and allergen-specific IgE levels not different from those observed in wild-type mice. Mice deficient in γ/δ T cells showed a mild attenuation of lung tissue eosinophilia in this model. Taken together, these findings suggest a critical role of NK cells, but not of NKT cells, for the development of allergen-induced airway inflammation, and that this effect of NK cells is exerted during the immunization. If translatable to humans, these data suggest that NK cells may be critically important for deciding whether allergic eosinophilic airway disease will develop. These observations are also compatible with a pathogenic role for the increased NK cell activity observed in human asthma.
natural killer cells; NK1.1+ T cells; γ/δ T cells; eosinophils; allergic asthma
Background. Natural killer (NK) cells are an important component of the innate immune defense against viruses, including hepatitis C virus (HCV). The cell culture system using HCV-permissive Huh-7.5 cells make studies on interaction of NK cells and HCV-infected target cells possible. We used this system to characterize interactions of HCV-infected Huh-7.5 cells and NK cells from healthy controls and patients with acute HCV infection.
Methods. IFNα- and IL-2 stimulated NK cells were cultured with HCV-infected hepatoma cells and subsequently analyzed (for degranulation and cytokine production) via multicolour flow cytometry. Luciferase assyas have been used to study inhibition of HCV replication. Further, PBMC from patients with acute hepatitis C as well as HCV-infected Huh7.5 cells have been analyzed via flow cytometry for expression of NK cell receptors and ligands, respectively.
Results. After interferon (IFN) α stimulation, NK cells from healthy controls and patients with acute hepatitis C efficiently recognized both HCV-infected and uninfected hepatoma cells. Subsequent dissection of receptor-ligand interaction revealed a dominant role for DNAM-1 and a complementary contribution of NKG2D for NK cell activation in this setting. Furthermore, IFN-α–stimulated NK cells effectively inhibited HCV replication in a DNAM-1–dependent manner.
Conclusions. Human NK cells recognize HCV-infected hepatoma cells after IFN-α stimulation in a DNAM-1–dependent manner. Furthermore, interaction of IFN-α–stimulated NK cells with HCV-infected hepatoma cells efficiently reduced HCV replication. This study opens up future studies of NK cell interaction with HCV-infected hepatocytes to gain further insight into the pathogenesis of human HCV infection and the therapeutic effects of IFN-α.