Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Raymond M. Welsh


Killer Cells, Natural, Vaccinia, Virus Diseases


The overall emphasis in this thesis is the study of the regulation of virus infections by natural killer (NK) cells. In initial analyses, vaccinia virus (VV)-infected cells were found to be more sensitive to NK cell-mediated lysis during a discrete period of time post-infection. This enhanced susceptibility to lysis correlated with enhanced triggering (but not binding) of the effector cells and a concomitant decrease in target cell H-2 class I antigen expression. Furthermore, VV-infected cells became resistant to lysis by allospecific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) at a time when they were very sensitive to killing by NK cells or VV-specific CTL. This suggested that alterations in class I MHC antigens may affect target cell sensitivity to lysis by NK cells.

The hypothesis that viral peptide charging of H-2 class I molecules can modulate target cell sensitivity to NK cell-mediated lysis was tested by treating target cells with synthetic viral peptides corresponding to the natural or minimal immunodominant epitopes defined for virus-specific CTL, and then target cell susceptibility to NK cell-mediated lysis was assessed. None of the 12 synthetic viral peptides used were able to significantly alter target cell lysis by NK cells under any of the conditions tested.

In order to determine if H-2 class I molecules were required in the regulation of a virus infection by NK cells in vivo, intact or NK depleted (treated with anti-asialo GM1 antiserum) β2-microglobulin-deficient [β2m (-/-)] mice, which possess a defect in H-2 class I antigen expression, were infected with the prototypic NK-sensitive virus, murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). In anti-asialo GM1-treated β2m (-/-) mice, as well as in β2m + (H-2 class I normal) control mice also treated with anti-asialo GM1 a significant enhancement in splenic MCMV titers as compared to NK-intact animals, was observed. When thymocyte expression of H-2 class I molecules (H-2Db) in normal mice was analyzed, it was found that following MCMV infection, H-2Db expression was significantly greater than the low level of expression found in uninfected thymocytes. In marked contrast, thymocytes from β2m (-/-) mice did not display any detectable H-2Db before or after infection. These in vivoresults demonstrate that NK cells can regulate a virus infection, at least in the case of MCMV, independent of H-2 class I molecule expression.

Thymocytes from uninfected normal mice were found to be very sensitive to NK cell-mediated lysis, whereas those from MCMV-infected animals were completely resistant, presumably due to the protective effects of MCMV-induced interferon (IFN). However, thymocytes from MCMV-infected β2m (-/-) mice were only slightly protected from lysis by NK cells, consistent with the inverse correlation between MHC class I antigen expression and sensitivity to NK cell-mediated lysis. These results provide in vivoevidence suggesting a requirement for MHC class I molecules in IFN-mediated protection from lysis by NK cells.

In addition to the analysis of H-2 class I molecules on target cells, the identity of a molecule present on the surface of all NK cells and other cytotoxic effector cells, which is recognized by a monoclonal antibody (mAb) generated in this laboratory designated CZ-1, and can also modulate NK cell triggering, was also of interest. This laboratory has previously reported that this antigen is upregulated on cytotoxic (and other) lymphocytes following a virus infection in vivo, or upon activation in vitro. Using competitive FACS analysis and fibroblasts transfected with various isoforms of CD45, it was found that mAb CZ-1 recognizes a sialic acid-dependent epitope associated with a subpopulation of CD45RB molecules.



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