Chimpanzees are susceptible to human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) and develop persistent infection but generally do not progress to full-blown AIDS. Several host and immunological factors have been implicated in mediating resistance to disease progression. Chimpanzees have a higher prevalence of circulating natural killer (NK) cells than humans; however, their role in mediating resistance to disease progression is not well understood. Furthermore, NK cell survival and activity have been shown to be dependent on interleukin-15 (IL-15). Accordingly, the influence of IL-15 on NK cell activity and gamma interferon (IFN-γ) production was evaluated in naive and HIV-1 -infected chimpanzees. In vitro stimulation of whole-blood cultures with recombinant gp120 (rgp120) resulted in enhanced IFN-γ production predominantly by the CD3- CD8+ subset of NK cells, and addition of anti-IL-15 to the system decreased IFN-γ production. Moreover, in vitro stimulation with recombinant IL-15 (rIL-15) augmented IFN-γ production from this subset of NK cells and increased NK cell cytotoxic activity. Stimulation with rgp120 also resulted in a 2- to 7-fold increase in IL-15 production. These findings suggest that chimpanzee CD3- CD8+ NK cells play a vital role in controlling HIV-1 infection by producing high levels of IFN-γ, and that IL-15 elicits IFN-γ production in this subpopulation of NK cells in HIV-1 -infected chimpanzees.
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