Cytomegalovirus evasion of natural killer cell responses

Helen E. Farrell, Mariapia A. Degli-Esposti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Natural killer (NK) cells are an important component of the innate cellular immune system. They are particularly important during the early immune responses following virus infection, prior to the induction of cytotoxic T cells (CTL). Unlike CTL, which recognize specific peptides displayed on the surface of cells by class I MHC, NK cells respond to aberrant expression of cell surface molecules, in particular class I MHC, in a non-specific manner. Thus, cells expressing low levels of surface class I MHC are susceptible to recognition by NK cells, with concomitant triggering of cytolytic and cytokine mediated responses. Many viruses, including the cytomegaloviruses, downregulate cell surface MHC class I: this is likely to provide protection against CTL-mediated clearance of infected cells, but may also render infected cells sensitive to NK-cell attack. This review focuses upon cytomegalovirus-encoded proteins that are believed to promote evasion of NK-cell-mediated immunity. The class I MHC homologues, encoded by all cytomegaloviruses characterised to date, have been implicated as molecular 'decoys', which may mimic the ability of cellular MHC class I to inhibit NK-cell functions. Results from studies in vitro are not uniform, but in general they support the proposal that the class I homologues engage inhibitory receptors from NK cells and other cell types that normally interact with cellular class I. Consistent with this, in vivo studies of murine cytomegalovirus indicate that the class I homologue is required for efficient evasion of NK-cell-mediated clearance. Recently a second murine cytomegalovirus protein, a C-C chemokine homologue, has been implicated as promoting evasion of NK and T-cell-mediated clearance in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-197
Number of pages11
JournalImmunological Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 1999
Externally publishedYes

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