The Herpesviridae family consists of eight viruses, most of which infect a majority of the human population. One of the less-studied members is human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) (Roseolovirus), which causes a mild, well-characterized childhood disease. Primary HHV-6 infection is followed by lifelong latency. Reactivation frequently occurs in immunocompromised patients, such as those suffering from HIV infection or cancer or following transplantation, and causes potentially life-threatening complications. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms that HHV-6 utilizes to remain undetected by natural killer (NK) cells, which are key participants in the innate immune response to infections. We revealed viral mechanisms which downregulate ligands for two powerful activating NK cell receptors: ULBP1, ULBP3, and MICB, which trigger NKG2D, and B7-H6, which activates NKp30. Accordingly, this downregulation impaired the ability of NK cells to recognize HHV-6-infected cells. Thus, we describe for the first time immune evasion mechanisms of HHV-6 that protect lytically infected cells from NK elimination.
Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) latently infects a large portion of the human population and can reactivate in humans lacking a functional immune system, such as cancer or AIDS patients. Under these conditions, it can cause life-threatening diseases. To date, the actions and interplay of immune cells, and particularly cells of the innate immune system, during HHV-6 infection are poorly defined. In this study, we aimed to understand how cells undergoing lytic HHV-6 infection interact with natural killer (NK) cells, innate lymphocytes constituting the first line of defense against viral intruders. We show that HHV-6 suppresses the expression of surface proteins that alert the immune cells by triggering two major receptors on NK cells, NKG2D and NKp30. As a consequence, HHV-6 can replicate undetected by the innate immune system and potentially spread infection throughout the body. This study advances the understanding of HHV-6 biology and the measures it uses to successfully escape immune elimination.