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Natural killer (NK) cells have a well-established role in host defense against viral infections and malignancies. However, their function in bacterial infection and sepsis is poorly defined. We hypothesized that NK cells, as a major producer of interferon-γ during sepsis, would be important in host defense against bacterial infections. Cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) was performed on Swiss Webster mice depleted of NK cells by pretreatment with anti-asialo GM1 and control mice given immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody. NK cell-depleted mice had significantly higher anaerobic bacterial counts in the liver and peritoneal lavage fluid, as well as higher aerobic counts in the liver and blood 4 h after CLP. Macrophage phagocytosis, nitric oxide production, and interleukin (IL)-6 levels at 4 h were also decreased in mice depleted of NK cells compared with controls. Greater neutrophil influx into the peritoneum, indicated by higher myeloperoxidase levels, was also seen in NK cell-depleted mice. At 8 and 18 h after CLP, bacterial counts were similar between groups, and overall survival rates were not significantly different. Peritoneal IL-12 levels significantly increased by 18 h in normal mice, but not in NK cell-depleted animals. Our data suggest that NK cells participate in the early local and systemic eradication of bacteria and regulation of IL-12 during polymicrobial sepsis. These effects are likely due to their interactions with macrophages.