Decreased NK cell frequency in chronic hepatitis C does not affect ex vivo cytolytic killing


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • See Editorial on Page 395


Prior studies have suggested that natural killer (NK) cell function might be impaired in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Circulating NK cell frequency and cytolytic activity were examined freshly ex vivo in HCV-infected and uninfected subjects. Surprisingly, the intrinsic cytolytic activity of peripheral blood NK-enriched cells was similar between HCV-infected and uninfected groups (P = .91). Although the percentage of circulating CD3CD16/56+NK cells was 30% lower in HCV-infected compared with uninfected subjects (P = .02) paralleled by a decrease of CD56dim cytolytic NK cells (P = .02), overall K562 cytolysis by unfractionated peripheral blood mononuclear cells was not affected (P = .29). Analysis of the relationships between NK cytolytic activity and other clinical information revealed an inverse association with liver fibrosis stage (P = .035). In conclusion, NK cell cytolytic function does not appear to be impaired in chronic hepatitis C, but higher levels of NK cell cytolysis are associated with less liver fibrosis. (HEPATOLOGY 2006;43:573–580.)