• Cell activation;
  • Cytoskeleton;
  • NK cells;
  • T cells;
  • Tetraspanin


The hepatitis C virus (HCV) binds to human cells through the interaction of its envelope glycoprotein E2 with the tetraspanin CD81. We have previously reported that engagement of CD81 has opposite effects on T and NK cell function, as it enhances T cell receptor-mediated T cell activation and inhibits CD16- or IL-12-mediated NK cell activation. We further investigated this dichotomy and found that another tetraspanin, CD82, induces the same opposing effects on human primary T and NK cells. Activation by other unrelated stimuli such as NKG2D- and beta-1 integrin is also reduced by CD81 ligation on NK cells. CD81 engagement by monoclonal antibody or HCV-E2 enhances zeta and Erk phosphorylation in T cells and reduces them in NK cells, reflecting the opposite functional outcomes. CD81 engagement induces dramatic morphological changes and local F-actin accumulation in both NK and T cells, indicating rearrangement of the actin cytoskeleton. Pharmacological inhibition of actin polymerization reduces T cell activation, whereas it greatly enhances NK cell activation. Importantly, treatment with actin blockers abolishes the inhibitory effect of CD81 ligation on NK cells. We propose that tetraspanin engagement leads to comparable cytoskeleton reorganization in T and NK cells, which in turn results in opposite functional outcomes.