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Natural killer cell phenotype is altered in HIV-exposed seronegative women


Highly exposed seronegative (HESN) individuals present a unique setting to study mechanisms of protection against HIV acquisition. As natural killer (NK) cell activation and function have been implicated as a correlate of protection in HESN individuals, we sought to better understand the features of NK cells that may confer protection. We used mass cytometry to phenotypically profile NK cells from a cohort of Beninese sex workers and healthy controls. We found that NK cells from HESN women had increased expression of NKG2A, NKp30 and LILRB1, as well as the Fc receptor CD16, and decreased expression of DNAM-1, CD94, Siglec-7, and NKp44. Using functional assessments of NK cells from healthy donors against autologous HIV-infected CD4+ T cells, we observed that NKp30+ and Siglec-7+ cells had improved functional activity. Further, we found that NK cells from HESN women trended towards increased antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) activity; this activity correlated with increased CD16 expression. Overall, we identify features of NK cells in HESN women that may contribute to protection from HIV infection. Follow up studies with larger cohorts are warranted to confirm these findings.

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