Defective natural killer cell anti-viral capacity in paediatric HBV infection
Heiberg IL., Pallett LJ., Winther TN., Høgh B., Maini MK., Peppa D.
Summary Natural killer (NK) cells exhibit dysregulated effector function in adult chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection (CHB), which may contribute to virus persistence. The role of NK cells in children infected perinatally with HBV is less studied. Access to a unique cohort enabled the cross-sectional evaluation of NK cell frequency, phenotype and function in HBV-infected children relative to uninfected children. We observed a selective defect in NK cell interferon (IFN)-γ production, with conserved cytolytic function, mirroring the functional dichotomy observed in adult infection. Reduced expression of NKp30 on NK cells suggests a role of impaired NK-dendritic cell (DC) cellular interactions as a potential mechanism leading to reduced IFN-γ production. The finding that NK cells are already defective in paediatric CHB, albeit less extensively than in adult CHB, has potential implications for the timing of anti-viral therapy aiming to restore immune control.