Journal of virology 2017 10 2791(22) pii 10.1128/JVI.01122-17
Natural killer (NK) cells are part of the innate immune system and recognize virus-infected cells as well as tumor cells. Conflicting data about the beneficial or even detrimental role of NK cells in different infectious diseases have been described previously. While the type of pathogen strongly influences NK cell functionality, less is known about how the infection dose influences the quality of a NK cell response against retroviruses. In this study, we used the well-established Friend retrovirus (FV) mouse model to investigate the impact of virus dose on the induction of antiviral NK cell functions. High-dose virus inoculation increased initial virus replication compared to that with medium- or low-dose viral challenge and significantly improved NK cell activation. Antiviral NK cell activity, including in vivo cytotoxicity toward infected target cells, was also enhanced by high-dose virus infection. NK cell activation following high-dose viral challenge was likely mediated by activated dendritic cells (DCs) and macrophages and the NK cell-stimulating cytokines interleukin 15 (IL-15) and IL-18. Neutralization of these cytokines decreased NK cell functions and increased viral loads, whereas IL-15 and IL-18 therapy improved NK cell activity. Here we demonstrate that virus dose positively correlates with antiviral NK cell activity and function, which are at least partly driven by IL-15 and IL-18. Our results suggest that NK cell activity may be therapeutically enhanced by administering IL-15 and IL-18 in virus infections that inadequately activate NK cells.IMPORTANCE In infections with retroviruses, like HIV and FV infection of mice, NK cells clearly mediate antiviral activities, but they are usually not sufficient to prevent severe pathology. Here we show that the initial infection dose impacts the induction of an antiviral NK cell response during an acute retroviral infection, which had not investigated before. High-dose infection resulted in a strong NK cell functionality, whereas no antiviral activities were detected after low- or medium-dose infection. Interestingly, DCs and macrophages were highly activated after high-dose FV challenge, which corresponded with increased levels of NK cell-stimulating cytokines IL-15 and IL-18. IL-15 and IL-18 neutralization decreased NK cell functions, whereas IL-15 and IL-18 therapy improved NK cell activity. Here we show the importance of cytokines for NK cell activation in retroviral infections; our findings suggest that immunotherapy combining the well-tolerated cytokines IL-15 and IL-18 might be an interesting approach for antiretroviral treatment.