CD56dim NK cells represent approximately 90% of the circulating NK-cell population and predominantely mediate cytotoxic effector functions. CD56bright NK cells contribute up to 10% of the peripheral blood NK-cell population and their primary function is cytokine production. However, recent studies have challenged this simple dichotomy by showing that CD56bright, as well as CD56dim, cells are capable of exerting both functions.3 NK-cell activation and function is tightly regulated by multiple activating
and inhibitory receptors. NK receptors include (1) the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) that recognize human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class Sunitinib I molecules, (2) the C-type lectin receptors, including the activating receptors, NKG2C, NKG2D, and NKG2E, and the inhibitory receptor, NKG2A, and (3) the activating natural cytotoxicity receptors, such as NKp30, NKp44, and
NKp46. In hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, the essential role of NK cells has been shown in several studies. For example, Khakoo et see more al. found that KIR2DL3, an inhibitory NK-cell receptor, and its HLA-C1 ligand directly influence the outcome of HCV infection.4 During acute infection, NK cells are activated, irrespective of the later outcome of infection,5 and they produce higher amounts of IFN-γ and are more cytotoxic, compared to NK cells obtained from healthy controls. Peak NK-cell activity either precedes or coincides with peak T-cell responses, supporting an indirect role of NK cells in priming and regulating adaptive immune responses.6 During chronic HCV infection, check details pertubations in NK-cell frequency, phenotype, and function have been reported, as reviewed elsewhere.7, 8 Indeed, peripheral blood NK-cell frequencies are reduced in chronic HCV infection, compared to healthy individuals. In addition, an impaired production of the TH1
polarizing cytokine, IFN-γ, and an increased production of immunoregulatory cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-10 and transforming growth factor beta, has been reported.9, 10 In contrast, cytotoxicity of NK cells is increased and correlates with the degree of liver inflammation.10, 11 This polarization toward cytotoxicity may be induced by IFN-α.11, 12 Given their important role in the regulation of NK cells, several studies have analyzed the expression of inhibitory and activating receptors on NK cells during acute and chronic HCV infection. Most, but not all, of these studies have revealed an increase in the expression of the inhibitory receptor, NKG2A, and the activating receptors, such as NKp30, NKp44, and NKp46.13, 14 NKp46 is a particularly interesting molecule.