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Keywords:

  • Innate immunity;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • activation;
  • cytokines;
  • NK;
  • NKT

Human natural killer (NK) cells (CD56+ CD3−) represent crucial components of the innate immune system especially against viral infections and because their activation can modulate the outcome of the adaptive immune response. NKT cells (CD56+CD3+), a lymphocyte T population characterized by expression of surface markers of NK cells, are known to be abundant in the liver and their activation could be associated with hepatic injury. Using three-color flow cytometry to measure surface receptors and intracellular cytokines, we have explored early activation signals and cytokine production in NK and NKT cells within a group of hepatitis B vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. A specific increase of the CD56bright cell population, the activation receptor CD69 and IFN-γ, was observed in NK cells following incubation with recombinant HBsAg in responders to vaccination. Comparable results were observed in NKT cells showing an increment of CD69, CD25, IL-2 and IFN-γ expression in responder subjects. These parameters were statistically diminished in non-responder individuals (p<0.05) in both groups of cells. These results demonstrate a diminished activation of these cells in non-responders to the vaccine, suggesting that NK and NKT cells play an important role in the immune response following hepatitis B vaccination.