Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Raymond M. Welsh


Muromegalovirus, Cytomegalovirus Infections


The overall aim of this thesis was to determine how natural killer (NK) cells regulate virus infections in vivo. Anti-viral mechanisms by which NK cells control murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) infection in the spleens and livers of adult C57BL/6 mice were first studied, revealing different mechanisms of control in different organs. Three days post-infection, MCMV titers in the spleens of perforin-deficient (perforin 0/0) mice were higher than in wild type controls, but no elevation of liver titers was found in perforin 0/0 mice. NK cell depletion in MCMV-infected perforin 0/0 mice resulted only in an increase in liver viral titers but not in spleen titers. Depletion of IFN-γ in adult C57BL/6 mice by injections with mAbs to IFN-γ resulted in an increase in viral titers in the liver but not in the spleen. Analyses using IFN-γ-receptor-deficient (IFN-γR0/0) mice, rendered chimeric with C57BL/6 bone marrow cells, indicated that even though the donor spleen cells could respond to IFN-γ, the depletion of NK cells in a recipient environment where the host cells could not respond to IFN-γ caused an increase in MCMV titers in the spleens but had little effect in the liver. IFN-γ has the ability to induce a variety of cells to produce nitric oxide (NO), and administrating the nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitor Nω-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMA) into MCMV-infected adult C57BL/6 mice resulted in MCMV titer increases in the liver but not in the spleen. These data indicate that in adult C57BL/6 mice, there is a dichotomy in the mechanisms utilized by NK cells in the regulation of MCMV in different organs. In the spleen NK cells exert their effects in a perforin-dependent manner, suggesting a cytotoxic mechanism, whereas in the liver the production of IFN-γ by NK cells may be a predominant mechanism in the regulation of MCMV synthesis. These results may explain why the Cmv-1r (Cmv-1-resistant) locus, which maps closely to genes regulating NK cell cytotoxic function, confers an NK cell-dependent resistance to MCMV infection in the spleen but not in the liver.

The ability of adoptively transferred cells to protect suckling mice from MCMV was another model used to study the mechanisms utilized by NK cells in the regulation of MCMV. Adoptive transfers of 129, C57BL/6 and perforin 0/0 spleen cells or lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells into 4 - 6 day old MCMV-infected C57BL/6 suckling mice significantly lowered the splenic MCMV titers in these mice compared to the infected controls. Adoptive transfers of C57BL/6 spleen cells into MCMV-infected 129 suckling mice also decreased the amount of MCMV in the 129 suckling mice, but C57BL/6 spleen cells could not regulate MCMV synthesis when adoptively transferred into 129/IFN-γR0/0 suckling mice. These results suggest that, in the suckling mouse model, the regulation of MCMV by the adoptively transferred NK cells is via an IFN-γ-dependent, perforin-independent, Cmv-1-independent mechanism.

The Cmv-1 gene locus resides within the NK gene complex, in close proximity to the Ly49 NK cell receptor family. Analyses were carried out to determine if any of the 4 known Ly49 NK cell receptors (Ly49A, C, D and G2) played a role in the control of MCMV synthesis by NK cells. Studies comparing the expression of the different Ly49 NK cell subsets in the spleen and the peritoneal cavity revealed that there were differences in the distribution of the Ly49 receptors on NK1.1+ cells. Three days post-MCMV infection, the percentage of NK1.1+- Ly49+ NK cells in the spleen and the peritoneal cavity were different than in naive controls. Within the splenic NK1.1+ population, increases in NK1.1+ -Ly49A+ and NK1.1+-Ly49G2+ cells but decreases in NK1.1+-Ly49C+ and NK1.1+-Ly49D+ cells were observed. These changes in the spleen were accompanied by a concomitant decrease in NK1.1+ - Ly49A+ cells and increases in NK1.1+-Ly49C+, NK1.1+-Ly49D+ and NK1.1+-Ly49G2+ cells within the NK1.1+ population in the peritoneal cavity. These data suggest that 3 days post-MCMV infection, there may be movement of NK cells between the different organs. The role of Ly49 NK cell receptors in the regulation of MCMV was tested using adult C57BL/6 mice depleted of single or multiple Ly49 NK cell subsets. These in vivo depletions did not affect the ability of the residual NK cells to regulate MCMV synthesis. LAK cells sorted into the different Ly49 NK cell subsets and adoptively transferred into C57BL/6 suckling mice lowered the splenic MCMV titers in these mice. Together, these results indicate that even though there is a redistribution of the Ly49 NK cell subsets during MCMV infection, the presence or absence of anyone of the 4 tested Ly49 NK cell receptors does not affect the regulation of MCMV by NK cells. However, there remain a possibility that one of the undefined Ly49 receptors or an untested NK cell receptor may be important in the control ofMCMV.

Most of the cloned NK cell receptors have been shown to bind to MHC class I molecules, and MHC class I antigens have been implicated as modulators of target cell sensitivity to NK cell-mediated lysis. The regulation of virus infections and the fate of NK cells and their natural targets was examined in β2-microglobulin-deficient mice [β2m (-/-)], which have defective MHC class I expression. Infections with either the NK cell-sensitive MCMV or the NK cell-resistant lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) significantly augmented NK cell activity in either C57BL/6 or β2m (-/-) mice. Depletion of NK cells in vivo with antiserum to asialo GM1 markedly enhanced the synthesis of MCMV but had no effect on the synthesis of LCMV in either strain of mouse. Adoptively transferred β2m (-/-) spleen cells lowered splenic MCMV titers in C57BL/6 suckling mice, not unlike adoptively transferred C57BL/6 spleen cells. Analysis of naturally NK cell-sensitive thymocyte targets from these virus-infected β2m (-/-) mice revealed no cell surface expression of class I MHC detectable by conformation-dependent or -independent antibodies, but the virus infections enhanced class I expression on thymocytes from C57BL/6 mice. The sensitivity of C57BL/6 thymocytes to NK cell-mediated lysis was markedly reduced after in vivo poly inosinic:cytidylic (poly I:C) treatment or viral infection; in contrast, the sensitivity of the β2m (-/-) thymocytes was significantly less affected by poly I:C or viral infection. These data indicate that the normal expression of MHC class I antigens on NK cells or their targets is not required for the anti-viral functions of NK cells against an NK-sensitive virus (MCMV) nor do they protect an NK-resistant virus (LCMV) from the anti-viral activity of NK cells.

Together, the data presented in this thesis help to further our understanding of the mechanisms utilized by NK cells in the control ofMCMV in both adult and suckling mice, and also help clarify the roles played by Ly49 NK cell receptors and MHC class I molecules in the regulation of MCMV.



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