NK cells play a major role in immune defense against human and murine CMV (MCMV) infection. Although the MCMV genome encodes for MHC class I-homologous decoy ligands for inhibitory NK cell receptors to evade detection, some mouse strains have evolved activating receptors, such as Ly49H, to recognize these ligands and initiate an immune response. In this study, we demonstrate that approximately half of the Ly49H-expressing (Ly49H(+)) NK cells in the spleen and liver of C57BL/6 mice also express the inhibitory NKR-P1B receptor. During MCMV infection, the NKR-P1B(-)Ly49H(+) NK cell subset proliferates to constitute the bulk of the NK cell population. This NK cell subset also confers better protection against MCMV infection compared with the NKR-P1B(+)Ly49H(+) subset. The two populations are composed of cells that differ in their surface expression of receptors such as Ly49C/I and NKG2A/C/E, as well as developmental markers, CD27 and CD11b, and the high-affinity IL-2R (CD25) following infection. Although the NKR-P1B(+) NK cells can produce effector molecules such as IFNs and granzymes, their proliferation is inhibited during infection. A similar phenotype in MCMV-infected Clr-b-deficient mice, which lack the ligand for NKR-P1B, suggests the involvement of ligands other than the host Clr-b. Most interestingly, genetic deficiency of the NKR-P1B, but not Clr-b, results in accelerated virus clearance and recovery from MCMV infection. This study is particularly significant because the mouse NKR-P1B:Clr-b receptor:ligand system represents the closest homolog of the human NKR-P1A:LLT1 system and may have a direct relevance to human CMV infection.
Copyright © 2016 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.