Natural killer (NK) cells play an important role in the optimal clearance of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection in mice. Activated NK cells function via cytokine secretion or direct cytolysis of target cells; dendritic cells (DCs) are thought to make critical contributions in the activation of both of these functions. Yet, the magnitude and physiological relevance of DC-mediated NK cell activation in vivo is not completely understood. To examine the contribution of DC help in regulating NK cell functions after infection with HSV-1, we utilized a transgenic mouse model that allows the transient ablation of DCs. Using this approach, it was found that the gamma interferon (IFN-γ) expression potential of NK cells is quantitatively and qualitatively impaired in the absence of DCs. With regard to priming of NK cytolytic functions, the ablation of DCs did not significantly affect cytotoxic protein expression by NK cells. An in vivo cytolytic assay did, however, reveal impairments in the magnitude of NK cell cytotoxicity. Overall, this study provides direct evidence that functional DCs are required for optimal IFN-γ expression and cytolytic function by NK cells following infection with HSV-1
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