Evaluation of NK Cell – Astrocyte Interactions: Potential Role in HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders and HIV- Associated Dementia

Bowen, Kelly E.
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NK cells play important roles in immunity against pathogens and cancer. NK cell functions are regulated by inhibitory and activating receptors binding corresponding ligands on the surface of target cells. During pathological conditions, NK cells were shown to be recruited to the CNS and could impact CNS physiology by killing glial cells and by secreting IFN-g. Astrocytes are intimately involved in immunological and inflammatory events occurring in the CNS and reactive astrogliosis is a key feature in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). There is little data on NK cell-astrocyte interactions and ligands expressed on astrocytes that could impact NK cell function. This study aimed to identify NK-associated ligands expressed by human astrocytes that confer this NK-directed cytotoxicity of astrocytes and assay the cytotoxicity differences in presence and absence of HIV 3S peptide. Using a fusion protein consisting of the extracellular domain of NKp44 fused to Fc portion of human IgG, we determined the expression of a novel ligand for NKp44 (NKp44L) on astrocytes. Incubation of astrocytes with 3S peptide downregulated NKp44L expression on astrocytes implicating protection from NK mediated killing. Thus, our study demonstrated that NKp44 has a protective effect on astrocytes from NK cell mediated killing during HIV infection. Astrocytes could also secrete cytokines that affect the expression of NK receptors on NK cells. We evaluated the expression of receptors on NK cells after co-culture with astrocytes. CD38 expression was increased on primary NK cells after incubation with astrocytes. CD38 is expressed on both NK cells and astrocytes and has an important implication in HIV-1 infection. Blocking CD38 signaling in our studies decreased astrocyte lysis, suggesting CD38 signaling has important implications in NK-astrocyte interactions. Future studies providing novel insights into the role of NK cells in the pathogenesis of HAND and other brain disorders might result in the development of NK cell based therapies for brain pathologies.