Natural killer cells and HIV-1 disease

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Purpose of review

Natural killer (NK) cells are important effector cells in the innate immune response and represent the first line of defense against viral infections. Given their functional capabilities, NK cells are likely to facilitate the prevention and control of HIV infection. Down-regulation of MHC class I expression – a feature of many viral infections including HIV – may therefore facilitate NK cell cytolysis of infected cells. The present review will focus on recent data addressing the role of NK cells in HIV infection and the effect of HIV on NK cell function.

Recent findings

Major advances have been made in understanding the biology of NK cells and their role in the pathogenesis of HIV infection. Several studies have demonstrated alteration of NK cell numbers and phenotypes as well as abnormal expression of a variety of NK cell receptors in HIV infection – changes that are accompanied by defects in NK cell function. Data are nevertheless emerging that demonstrate the importance of NK cells in preventing and controlling HIV infection, as well as being a potential target for immunotherapeutic agents.


This review summarizes the current literature regarding NK cell function in HIV infection and its implications in HIV pathogenesis.

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