Activation of Natural Killer Cells During Acute Infection With Hepatitis C Virus

Barbara Amadei, Simona Urbani, Angelica Cazaly, Paola Fisicaro, Alessandro Zerbini, Parvin Ahmed, Gabriele Missale, Carlo Ferrari, Salim I. Khakoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background & Aims: Natural killer (NK) cells are essential early after infection, not only for viral containment but also for timely and efficient induction of adaptive responses. An inhibitory effect of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-E2 proteins on NK cells has been reported, but the features of NK cell responses in the acute phase of hepatitis C are still largely undefined. Therefore, the aim of this study was to characterize the function and phenotype of NK cells in the acute phase of infection and compare individuals with chronic and self-limited outcomes. Methods: Twenty-two individuals with acute HCV infection, 14 with chronic evolution, and 8 with self-limited infection, were studied using NK phenotypic and functional assays. Results: An increased expression of NKG2D on both CD56bright and CD56dim NK cells was detected in patients with acute HCV, irrespective of the outcome, as compared with healthy controls. Also, interferon gamma production and cytotoxicity by NK cells were higher in individuals with acute HCV infection than in healthy controls. Subset analysis showed increased interferon gamma production in both NK cell subsets carrying group 1 and group 2 HLA-C-specific killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors. However, increased CD107a was noted only on NK cells expressing the group 1 HLA-C-specific killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor and was maximal in self-limited infection. Conclusions: Our data show that in the acute phase of HCV infection, NK cells are activated regardless of outcome, with no evidence of a suppressive effect of HCV on NK cell function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1536-1545
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Cytotoxicity
  • Interferon Gamma
  • NK Receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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