RNA Signatures of Natural Killer Immune Cells Suggest Increased Activity Following HIV Vaccination

Natural killer (NK) cells are able to kill virus-infected or transformed cells and represent an important component of the human immune system. In a new study led by MHRP, researchers utilized cell sorting and transcriptional profiling to identify unique RNA transcription signatures to help unveil the potential mechanisms through which NK cells respond to HIV infection and vaccination. Findings from the study were published Friday in Nature Communications.

Researchers compared NK cells at the protein and transcript level in samples provided by healthy donors, volunteers with chronic HIV infection and healthy recipients of an HIV vaccine. They found the three distinct transcriptional fingerprints in NK cells associated with functions through which NK cells may limit HIV-infection.

Compared with cells from healthy donors, the volunteers with chronic HIV had lower expression of genes associated with NK cells’ ability to directly kill infected cells, indicating an impaired response. By contrast, NK cell profiles of individuals receiving an HIV vaccine indicated NK cell engagement through direct cell recognition of target cells.

“There was prior evidence that NK cells are important in combating HIV infection, but we need to learn more about their response,” said Dr. Margaret Costanzo, an immunologist and first author of the paper. “Insights from this research may inform how to better engage these cells through vaccination.”

The paper has been published online: http://rdcu.be/JFph