Purpose of review: Over the last decade our understanding of the role of natural killer cells in HIV infection has changed dramatically due to strong epidemiological, phenotypic, and functional data providing evidence for their involvement in antiviral control. Here we review the current literature on natural killer cells in the control of HIV infection, with a specific focus on their role in HIV controllers, individuals that spontaneously control HIV replication in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.
Recent findings: Differences between progressors and controllers are highlighted in the context of genetic influences, natural killer cell phenotypes, function and dysregulation. Also, recent findings on the role of natural killer cell-mediated antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity in HIV control are summarized.
Summary: This evolving understanding of the complex biology of natural killer cells and their multifaceted role in HIV infection offer exciting new approaches for future vaccine strategies. Furthermore, the specific natural killer cell phenotype and function observed in controllers may guide new vaccine modalities that specifically harness the antiviral power of natural killer cells as adjuvants, or as direct effectors.