There is much interest in the potential of Ab-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) to slow disease progression following HIV infection. Despite several studies demonstrating a positive association between ADCC and slower disease progression, it is possible that continued stimulation of NK cells by ADCC during chronic HIV infection could render these cells dysfunctional. Indeed, activation of NK cells by ADCC results in matrix metalloproteinase-induced reductions in CD16 expression and activation refractory periods. In addition, ex vivo analyses of NK cells from HIV-infected individuals revealed other alterations in phenotype, such as decreased expression of the activating NKp46 receptor that is essential for NK-mediated antitumor responses and immunity from infection. Because NKp46 shares a signaling pathway with CD16, we hypothesized that activation-induced downregulation of both receptors could be controlled by a common mechanism. We found that activation of NK cells by anti-HIV or anti-CD16 Abs resulted in NKp46 downregulation. The addition of a matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor attenuated NKp46 downregulation following NK cell activation by anti-HIV Abs. Consequently, these results suggest that continued stimulation through CD16 has the potential to impair natural cytotoxicity via attenuation of NKp46-dependent signals.
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