As discussed in this review, human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection in healthy individuals is associated with a variable and persistent increase of NK cells expressing the CD94/NKG2C activating receptor. The expansion of NKG2C(+) NK cells reported in other infectious diseases is systematically associated with HCMV co-infection. The functionally mature NKG2C(bright) NK-cell subset expanding in HCMV(+) individuals displays inhibitory Ig-like receptors (KIR and LILRB1) specific for self HLA class I, and low levels of NKp46 and NKp30 activating receptors. Such reconfiguration of the NK-cell compartment appears particularly marked in immunocompromised patients and in children with symptomatic congenital infection, thus suggesting that its magnitude may be inversely related with the efficiency of the T-cell-mediated response. This effect of HCMV infection is reminiscent of the pattern of response of murine Ly49H(+) NK cells against murine CMV (MCMV), and it has been hypothesized that a cognate interaction of the CD94/NKG2C receptor with HCMV-infected cells may drive the expansion of the corresponding NK-cell subset. Yet, the precise role of NKG2C(+) cells in the control of HCMV infection, the molecular mechanisms underlying the NK-cell compartment redistribution, as well as its putative influence in the response to other pathogens and tumors remain open issues.
© 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.