Background & aims: HIV/HCV co-infection is characterized by a faster progression to liver fibrosis compared to HCV mono-infection. Epidemiologic studies found an association between low CD4(+) T cell counts and advanced stages of liver fibrosis. However, the mechanisms underlying this association remain unclear. CD4(+) T cells critically modulate NK cell activity. Of note, NK cells have been shown to display anti-fibrotic activity via killing of activated hepatic stellate cells (HSC). Thus, we speculated that CD4(+) T cells might modulate fibrosis progression by interacting with NK cells.
Methods: NK cells from HCV(+) (n=35), HIV(+)/HCV(+) (n=28), HIV(+) (n=8) patients, and healthy controls (n=30) were used in this study. NK cells were cultured in the presence or absence of supernatants from CD3/CD28-stimulated CD4(+) cells. Then, NK cells were co-incubated with activated HSC and studied for degranulation, IFN-γ secretion, and induction of HSC apoptosis.
Results: Following incubation with CD4(+) T cell supernatants, NK cells displayed a significantly increased activity against primary HSC as compared to unstimulated NK cells. This effect was, at least in part, mediated via an IL-2 dependent upregulation of NKG2D expression. HCV/HIV co-infection was associated with an impaired IL-2 secretion of CD4(+) T cells resulting in an ineffective stimulation of anti-fibrotic NK cell function.
Conclusions: Here, we show that CD4(+) T cells are able to stimulate anti-fibrotic NK cell activity via IL-2 mediated upregulation of NKG2D. HIV-induced loss of CD4(+) T cells together with an impaired activity of CD4(+) T cells may contribute to accelerate progression of liver fibrosis observed in co-infection.
Keywords: Apoptosis; CD4(+) T cells; FACS; FBS; HCV; HIV; HIV/HCV co-infection; HSC; Hepatic stellate cells; IFN; IL; IL-2; Liver fibrosis; NK cell; NK cells; NKG2D; PBMC; SIV; SteCM; TRAIL; fetal bovine serum; fluorescence-activated cell sorting; hepatic stellate cells; hepatitis C virus; human immunodeficiency virus; interferon; interleukin; natural killer cell; peripheral blood mononuclear cells; simian immunodeficiency virus; stellate cell medium; tumour necrosis factor related apoptosis inducing ligand.
Copyright © 2013 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.