Increased natural killer cell cytotoxicity and NKp30 expression protects against hepatitis C virus infection in high-risk individuals and inhibits replication in vitro

Lucy Golden-Mason, Andrea Cox, Jessica A. Randall, Linling Cheng, Hugo R. Rosen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


CD56pos natural killer (NK)/natural T (NT) cells are important innate effectors providing the first line of defense against viral infection. Enhanced NK activity has been shown to protect from human immunodeficiency virus-1 infection. However, the role played by these innate effectors in protection against or development of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is unknown. We characterized CD56pos populations in 11 injection drug users (IDUs) who remained uninfected despite being repeatedly exposed to HCV. NK profiles in exposed but uninfected (EU) individuals were compared with preinfection samples (median 90 days prior to HCV seroconversion) collected from 14 IDUs who were exposed and subsequently became infected (EI) and unexposed normal control subjects (n = 8). Flow cytometric analysis of CD56pos populations demonstrated that EUs had a higher proportion of CD56low mature (P = 0.0011) NK cells compared with EI subjects. Bead-isolated NKs (>90% purity) from EUs had significantly higher interleukin-2 (IL-2)-induced cytolytic activity against the NK-sensitive cell line K562 at an effector-to-target ratio of 10:1 (P <0.0001). NKp30, a natural cytotoxicity receptor involved in NK activation, is highest on NK/NT cells in EUs relative to infected subjects. Using the JFH-1 infection system, we demonstrated that NKp30high cells in the absence of exogenous stimulation significantly reduce infection of hepatocytes. Conclusion: CD56pos populations in EUs are enriched for effector NKs displaying enhanced IL-2-induced cytolytic activity and higher levels of the natural cytotoxicity receptor NKp30-activating receptor. In addition, NKp30high cells are more effective in preventing infection of Huh-7.5 cells than their NKp30low/neg counterparts. These data support the hypothesis that NK cells contribute to anti-HCV defense in vivo in the earliest stages of infection, providing innate protection from HCV acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1581-1589
Number of pages9
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology

Cite this