Natural killer (NK) cells are the predominant antiviral cells of the innate immune system, and may play an important role in acquisition and disease progression of HIV. While untreated HIV infection is associated with distinct alterations in the peripheral blood NK cell repertoire, less is known about how NK phenotype is altered in the setting of long-term viral suppression with antiretroviral therapy (ART), as well as how NK memory can impact functional responses. As such, we sought to identify changes in NK cell phenotype and function using high-dimensional mass cytometry to simultaneously analyze both surface and functional marker expression of peripheral blood NK cells in a cohort of ART-suppressed, HIV+ patients and HIV- healthy controls. We found that the NK cell repertoire following IL-2 treatment was altered in individuals with treated HIV infection compared to healthy controls, with increased expression of markers including NKG2C and CD2, and decreased expression of CD244 and NKp30. Using co-culture assays with autologous, in vitro HIV-infected CD4 T cells, we identified a subset of NK cells with enhanced responsiveness to HIV-1-infected cells, but no differences in the magnitude of anti-HIV NK cell responses between the HIV+ and HIV− groups. In addition, by profiling of NK cell receptors on responding cells, we found similar phenotypes of HIV-responsive NK cell subsets in both groups. Lastly, we identified clusters of NK cells that are altered in individuals with treated HIV infection compared to healthy controls, but found that these clusters are distinct from those that respond to HIV in vitro. As such, we conclude that while chronic, treated HIV infection induces a reshaping of the IL-2-stimulated peripheral blood NK cell repertoire, it does so in a way that does not make the repertoire more HIV-specific.
Keywords: NK cells, HIV-1, memory, innate immunity, CyTOF