Interleukin-2 from Adaptive T Cells Enhances Natural Killer Cell Activity against Human Cytomegalovirus-Infected Macrophages

J Virol. 2015 Jun;89(12):6435-41. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00435-15. Epub 2015 Apr 8.


Control of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) requires a continuous immune surveillance, thus HCMV is the most important viral pathogen in severely immunocompromised individuals. Both innate and adaptive immunity contribute to the control of HCMV. Here, we report that peripheral blood natural killer cells (PBNKs) from HCMV-seropositive donors showed an enhanced activity toward HCMV-infected autologous macrophages. However, this enhanced response was abolished when purified NK cells were applied as effectors. We demonstrate that this enhanced PBNK activity was dependent on the interleukin-2 (IL-2) secretion of CD4(+) T cells when reexposed to the virus. Purified T cells enhanced the activity of purified NK cells in response to HCMV-infected macrophages. This effect could be suppressed by IL-2 blocking. Our findings not only extend the knowledge on the immune surveillance in HCMV-namely, that NK cell-mediated innate immunity can be enhanced by a preexisting T cell antiviral immunity-but also indicate a potential clinical implication for patients at risk for severe HCMV manifestations due to immunosuppressive drugs, which mainly suppress IL-2 production and T cell responsiveness.

Importance: Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is never cleared by the host after primary infection but instead establishes a lifelong latent infection with possible reactivations when the host's immunity becomes suppressed. Both innate immunity and adaptive immunity are important for the control of viral infections. Natural killer (NK) cells are main innate effectors providing a rapid response to virus-infected cells. Virus-specific T cells are the main adaptive effectors that are critical for the control of the latent infection and limitation of reinfection. In this study, we found that IL-2 secreted by adaptive CD4(+) T cells after reexposure to HCMV enhances the activity of NK cells in response to HCMV-infected target cells. This is the first direct evidence that the adaptive T cells can help NK cells to act against HCMV infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 / metabolism*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Macrophages / virology*


  • IL2 protein, human
  • Interleukin-2