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posted on 16.03.2018, 04:04 by Dimitra Peppa, Isabela Pedroza-Pacheco, Pierre Pellegrino, Ian Williams, Mala K. Maini, Persephone Borrow

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) co-infection is highly prevalent within HIV-1 cohorts and is an important cofactor in driving ongoing immune activation, even during effective antiretroviral treatment. HCMV infection has recently been associated with expansion of adaptive-like natural killer (NK) cells, which harbor epigenetic alterations that impact on their cellular function and phenotype. The influence of HCMV co-infection on the considerable heterogeneity among NK cells and their functional responses to different stimuli was assessed in a cohort of HIV-1-infected individuals sampled during different stages of infection, compared with healthy subjects stratified according to HCMV serostatus. Our data demonstrate a reshaping of the NK cell pool in HIV-1 infection of HCMV-seropositive individuals, with an accentuated peripheral transition of CD56dim NK cells toward a mature CD57+ CD85j+ NKG2C+ NKG2A− phenotype. Lack of PLZF further distinguishes adaptive NK cells from other NK cells expressing CD57 or NKG2C. PLZF− NK cells from HIV-infected individuals had high expression of CD2, were Siglec-7 negative and exhibited downregulation of key signaling molecules, SYK and FcεRI-γ, overwhelmingly displaying features of adaptive NK cells that correlated with HCMV serum Ab levels. Notably this adaptive-like signature was detected during early HIV-1 infection and persisted during treatment. Adaptive-like NK cell subsets in HIV-1-infected individuals displayed enhanced IFN-γ production following Fc receptor triggering compared with their conventional NK cell counterparts, and their ability to produce TNF-α and degranulate was preserved. Together, these data suggest that HMCV infection/reactivation, a hallmark of HIV-1 infection, plays a role in driving a relative expansion of NK cells with adaptive features during HIV-1 infection. The identification of selective NK subsets with retained effector activity in HIV-1-infected subjects raises the possibility of developing therapeutic strategies that exploit specific NK subpopulations to achieve better HIV-1 control.