Background and Aims: Current evidence suggests that dysfunctional natural killer (NK) cell responses during hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can be restored after viral eradication with direct acting antivirals (DAAs). However, the fate of the recently described adaptive NK cell population, endowed with increased ability to mediate antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC), during HCV infection is poorly defined, while no study has explored the effects of DAAs on this NK subset. Approach and Results: We performed multicolor flow cytometry to investigate CD57+ FcεRIγneg adaptive and FcεRIγpos conventional NK cell phenotype and function before and after DAA treatment in 59 patients chronically infected with HCV, 39 with advanced liver fibrosis, and 20 with mild-moderate liver fibrosis. Moreover, bulk NK cell phenotype and function were analyzed after cytokine activation following contact with K562 target cells. The proportion of FcεRIγneg NK cells in patients with HCV was associated with increased HCV load at baseline, and it was significantly reduced after treatment. Patients with an advanced fibrosis stage displayed increased NK cell activation and exhaustion markers that normalized after therapy. Of note, adaptive NK cells from patients with HCV were characterized by increased programmed death receptor 1 expression and reduced ADCC activity at baseline. DAA treatment restored ADCC ability and reduced programmed death receptor 1 expression. Conclusions: HCV profoundly affects the frequency, phenotype, and function of adaptive NK cells. DAA therapy restores a normal adaptive NK phenotype and enhances interferon-gamma production by this cell subset.
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