We analyzed the impact of human cytomegalovirus infection on the development of natural killer cells in 27 pediatric patients affected by hematological malignancies, who had received a HLA-haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, depleted of both α/β + T cells and B cells. In line with previous studies in adult recipients of umbilical cord blood transplantation, we found that human cytomegalovirus reactivation accelerated the emergence of mature natural killer cells. Thus, most children displayed a progressive expansion of a memory-like natural killer cell subset expressing NKG2C, a putative receptor for human cytomegalovirus, and CD57, a marker of terminal natural killer cell differentiation. NKG2C+CD57+ natural killer cells were detectable by month 3 following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and expanded until at least month 12. These cells were characterized by high killer Ig-like receptors (KIRs) and leukocyte inhibitory receptor 1 (LIR-1) and low Siglec-7, NKG2A and Interleukin-18Rα expression, killed tumor targets and responded to cells expressing HLA-E (a NKG2C ligand). In addition, they were poor Interferon-γproducers in response to Interleukin-12 and Interleukin-18. The impaired response to these cytokines, together with their highly differentiated profile, may reflect their skewing toward an adaptive condition specialized in controlling human cytomegalovirus. In conclusion, in pediatric patients receiving a type of allograft different from umbilical cord blood transplantation, human cytomegalovirus also induced memory-like natural killer cells, possibly contributing to controlling infections and reinforcing anti-leukemia effects.
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