Epstein Barr Viral infection is a common childhood infection in India and is also nearly 100 % etiologically associated with pediatric Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL). The main question in EBV immunobiology has been, why only a small subset of infected individuals develop EBV associated malignancies, while the vast majority carry this virus asymptomatically for life. Natural Killer (NK) cells, with a phenotype of CD56dim CD16+ exhibit potent cytotoxicity towards both virus infected cells and transformed cells and hence have been considered to be crucial in preventing the development of symptomatic EBV infection and lymphoma. In order to get an insight into the various possible molecular aspects of NK cells, in the pathogenesis of both these EBV mediated diseases in children we studied the whole transcriptome of MACS sorted CD56dim CD16 + NK cells from four patients from each of the three groups of children viz. Infectious Mononucleosis (IM), HL and age matched controls by using a massively parallel sequencing approach. NK cells from both IM and HL had down-regulated innate immunity and chemokine signaling genes. While down-regulation of genes responsible for polarization of the secretory apparatus, activated NK cell signaling and MAP kinase signaling were exclusive to NK cells in patients with IM, in NK cells of HL, specifically, genes involved in extracellular matrix (ECM) - receptor interaction, cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction, TNF signaling, Toll-like receptor signaling pathway and cytosolic DNA-sensing pathways were significantly down-regulated. Enrichment analysis showed STAT3 to be the most significant transcription factor (TF) for the down-regulated genes in IM, whereas, GATA1 was found to be the most significant TF for the genes down-regulated in HL. Analysis of protein interaction network identified functionally important protein clusters. Top clusters, comprised of down-regulated genes, involved in signaling and ubiquitin-related processes and pathways. These may perhaps be responsible for the hypo-responsiveness of NK cells in both diseases. These possibly point to different deficiencies in NK cell activation, loss of activating receptor signaling and degranulation in IM, versus loss of cytokine and chemokine signaling in HL, in the two EBV associated pathologies investigated. Various suppressed molecules and pathways were novel, which have not been reported earlier and could therefore be potential targets for immunotherapy of NK cell reactivation in both the diseases in future.
Keywords: Epstein Barr virus; Hodgkin Lymphoma; Hyporesponsive NK cells; Infectious mononucleosis; Natural Killer cells; Next generation sequencing; RNA sequencing; Transcriptome.
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