Image_4_Genetic Variability of Human Cytomegalovirus Clinical Isolates Correlates With Altered Expression of Natural Killer Cell-Activating Ligands an.pdf (48.19 kB)
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Image_4_Genetic Variability of Human Cytomegalovirus Clinical Isolates Correlates With Altered Expression of Natural Killer Cell-Activating Ligands and IFN-γ.pdf

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posted on 09.04.2021, 04:07 by Ganna Galitska, Alessandra Coscia, Diego Forni, Lars Steinbrueck, Simone De Meo, Matteo Biolatti, Marco De Andrea, Rachele Cagliani, Agata Leone, Enrico Bertino, Thomas Schulz, Angela Santoni, Santo Landolfo, Manuela Sironi, Cristina Cerboni, Valentina Dell’Oste

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection often leads to systemic disease in immunodeficient patients and congenitally infected children. Despite its clinical significance, the exact mechanisms contributing to HCMV pathogenesis and clinical outcomes have yet to be determined. One of such mechanisms involves HCMV-mediated NK cell immune response, which favors viral immune evasion by hindering NK cell-mediated cytolysis. This process appears to be dependent on the extent of HCMV genetic variation as high levels of variability in viral genes involved in immune escape have an impact on viral pathogenesis. However, the link between viral genome variations and their functional effects has so far remained elusive. Thus, here we sought to determine whether inter-host genetic variability of HCMV influences its ability to modulate NK cell responses to infection. For this purpose, five HCMV clinical isolates from a previously characterized cohort of pediatric patients with confirmed HCMV congenital infection were evaluated by next-generation sequencing (NGS) for genetic polymorphisms, phylogenetic relationships, and multiple-strain infection. We report variable levels of genetic characteristics among the selected clinical strains, with moderate variations in genome regions associated with modulation of NK cell functions. Remarkably, we show that different HCMV clinical strains differentially modulate the expression of several ligands for the NK cell-activating receptors NKG2D, DNAM-1/CD226, and NKp30. Specifically, the DNAM-1/CD226 ligand PVR/CD155 appears to be predominantly upregulated by fast-replicating (“aggressive”) HCMV isolates. On the other hand, the NGK2D ligands ULBP2/5/6 are downregulated regardless of the strain used, while other NK cell ligands (i.e., MICA, MICB, ULBP3, Nectin-2/CD112, and B7-H6) are not significantly modulated. Furthermore, we show that IFN-γ; production by NK cells co-cultured with HCMV-infected fibroblasts is directly proportional to the aggressiveness of the HCMV clinical isolates employed. Interestingly, loss of NK cell-modulating genes directed against NK cell ligands appears to be a common feature among the “aggressive” HCMV strains, which also share several gene variants across their genomes. Overall, even though further studies based on a higher number of patients would offer a more definitive scenario, our findings provide novel mechanistic insights into the impact of HCMV genetic variability on NK cell-mediated immune responses.