IL-21 plays an important role in regulating immune response and controlling chronic viral infections. Recently, we reported its decreased serum concentrations and their immunological consequences in HIV-infected persons. In this study, we have investigated how exogenous IL-21 enhances NK cell responses in these persons. We show that the cytokine receptors are expressed equally on all NK cell subsets defined by expression of CD16 and CD56; the cytokine activates STAT-3, MAPK, and Akt to enhance NK cell functions; the STAT-3 activation plays a key role in constitutive and IL-21-mediated enhancement of NK cell functions; the cytokine increases expression of antiapoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL and enhances viability of NK cells but has no effect on their proliferation; the cytokine enhances HIV-specific ADCC, secretory, and cytotoxic functions, as well as viability of NK cells from HIV-infected persons; it exerts its biological effects on NK cells with minimal stimulation of HIV-1 replication; and the cytokine-activated NK cells inhibit viral replication in cocultured, HIV-infected, autologous CD4+ T cells in a perforin- and LFA-1-dependent manner. These data suggest that IL-21 may serve as a valuable therapeutic tool for enhancing NK cell responses and inhibiting viral replication in HIV-infected patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology