Major Surgical Trauma Impairs the Function of Natural Killer Cells but Does Not Affect Monocyte Cytokine Synthesis

Major traumatic and surgical injury increase the risk for infectious complications due to immune dysregulation. Upon stimulation with interleukin (IL) 12 by monocyte/macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells release interferon (IFN) γ that supports the elimination of the pathogen. In the present study, we investigated the impact of invasive spine surgery on the relationship between monocytes and NK cells upon exposure to Staphylococcus aureus. Mononuclear cells and serum were isolated from peripheral blood of patients before and up to 8 d after surgery and stimulated with inactivated S. aureus bacteria. NK cell and monocyte function were determined by flow cytometry. NK cells continuously lost their ability to produce IFN-γ during the first week after surgery independently from monocyte-derived IL-12 secretion. IFN-γ synthesis was minimal on day 8 and was associated with decreased expression of the IL-12 receptor and activation of transcription factors required for IFNG gene transcription. Addition of recombinant IL-12 could at least partially restore NK cell function. Pre-operative levels of growth/differentiation factor (GDF) 15 in the serum correlated with the extent of NK cell suppression and with hospitalization. Thus, NK cell suppression after major surgery might represent a therapeutic target to improve the immune defense against opportunistic infections.


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