Changes in natural killer cell phenotype in patients with post-viral fatigue syndrome


L. J. A. Morrison, Institute of Neurological Sciences. Southern General Hospital, 1345 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 4TF, UK.


We analysed peripheral blood CD56+ natural killer (NK) cell subsets in 23 carefully characterized patients with post-viral fatigue syndrome (PFS), compared with 19 healthy controls, using fluorochrome-conjugated, specific monoclonal antibodies and the FACScan. We found significantly increased percentages of CD56+ and especially CD56bright NK cells in PFS patients. We also found significantly increased percentages of CD56+ high affinity interleukin-2 (IL-2) receptor (CD25)+ and CD56+ transferrin receptor (CD71+) subsets of cells, most of which also stained brightly for CD56. Also, we found an increased percentage of CD56+ CD3+ cells, many of which stained brightly for CD56, although there was no increase in the percentage of CD56- CD3+ T cells in these patients. These observations, in conjunction with very low percentage of CD56- CD25+ cells, suggest that there is a preferential involvement of this minor subset of CD56+ CD3+ T cells in PFS. Finally, a decreased percentage of CD56+ Fc gamma receptor (CD16)+ NK cells was identified, which suggests a reduced capacity for antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity in PFS patients. Subsets of CD56+ NK cells co-expressing CD2, CD4 or CD8 did not show any significant difference between PFS patients and healthy controls. These phenotypic changes provide laboratory evidence of immunological abnormalities in this syndrome, and, we suggest, may be consistent with persistent viral infection.