Natural killer T cells contribute to the control of acute retroviral infection

Natural killer T cells (NKT cells) play an important role in the immunity against viral infections. They produce cytokines or have direct cytolytic effects that can restrict virus replication. However, the exact function of NKT cells in retroviral immunity is not fully elucidated. Therefore, we analyzed the antiretroviral functions of NKT cells in mice infected with the Friend retrovirus (FV).
After FV infection numbers of NKT cells remained unchanged but activation as well as improved effector functions of NKT cells were found. While the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines was not changed after infection, activated NKT cells revealed an elevated cytotoxic potential. Stimulation with α-Galactosylceramide significantly increased not only total NKT cell numbers and activation but also the anti-retroviral capacity of NKT cells.
We demonstrate a strong activation and a potent cytolytic function of NKT cells during acute retroviral infection. Therapeutic treatment with α-Galactosylceramide could further improve the reduction of early retroviral replication by NKT cells, which could be utilized for future treatment against viral infections.


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