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Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Udayasankar Kumaraguru

Committee Members

Robert V. Schoborg, Priscilla B. Wyrick, Jonathan P Moorman, Dennis M. Defoe


Natural killer (NK) cells are non-specific killer cells of the innate immune system that eliminate target cells based on discrimination between self and non-self. Activation is carefully regulated through integration of signals received through both activating and inhibitory receptors. During the course of a herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) infection, NK cells can influence host susceptibility to infection with severe infections occurring in individuals with genetic defects in the NK cell response. In response to HSV infection, NK cells are recruited to the inflammatory tissue where ensuing reciprocal interactions with accessory cells and proinflammatory cytokines induce NK cell activation, cytolytic activity, and cytokine production, contributing to innate immune response and ultimately influencing the adaptive immune response. The objective of this study was to elucidate the multiple roles of NK cells during the numerous steps in anti-HSV immune induction. Accordingly, we have demonstrated that NK cells are novel helpers that assist and influence an anti-HSV immune response via the secretion of cytokines that enhance HSV-specific CD8+ T cell effector function and cytokine production. Taken together, data from this study presented the critical importance of NK cells in mounting an essential and efficient anti-HSV immunity. The key findings of our study were: 1. In the absence of NK cells, dendritic cells have decreased capacity to prime HSV-specific T cells. 2. HSV infected NK cells can be directly activated via toll-like receptor (TLR) in a MyD88-dependent mechanism; however, interaction with HSV infected dendritic cells yields optimal NK cell activation and function (CD69 and IFNγ). 3. TRAIL-expressing NK cells eliminate antigen-bearing immature dermal DCs (CD11c+CD8α-DR5+), that migrate to draining lymphoid organs, to facilitate antigen transfer to lymphoid resident CD8α+ DC for T cell cross priming. 4. 'Helpless' CD8+ T cell function, generated in the absence of CD4+ T cells, can be partially restored to wild-type levels by NK cell supplementation. 5. Treatment of NK cells with anti-CD69 antibody results in a heightened NK activated state and augments the adaptive immune response, without increasing NK cell numbers. These findings may contribute to the potential revelation of avenues to manipulate NK cells for anti-viral therapies.

Document Type

Dissertation - restricted


Copyright by the authors.