Natural killer cell function and dysfunction in hepatitis C virus infection

Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:903764. doi: 10.1155/2014/903764. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


Viruses must continually adapt against dynamic innate and adaptive responses of the host immune system to establish chronic infection. Only a small minority (~20%) of those exposed to hepatitis C virus (HCV) spontaneously clear infection, leaving approximately 200 million people worldwide chronically infected with HCV. A number of recent research studies suggest that establishment and maintenance of chronic HCV infection involve natural killer (NK) cell dysfunction. This relationship is illustrated in vitro by disruption of typical NK cell responses including both cell-mediated cytotoxicity and cytokine production. Expression of a number of activating NK cell receptors in vivo is also affected in chronic HCV infection. Thus, direct in vivo and in vitro evidence of compromised NK function in chronic HCV infection in conjunction with significant epidemiological associations between the outcome of HCV infection and certain combinations of NK cell regulatory receptor and class I human histocompatibility linked antigen (HLA) genotypes indicate that NK cells are important in the immune response against HCV infection. In this review, we highlight evidence suggesting that selective impairment of NK cell activity is related to establishment of chronic HCV infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genotype
  • Hepacivirus
  • Hepatitis C / immunology*
  • Hepatitis C / virology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / virology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / virology