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Natural killer cells in spontaneous control of HIV infection

Berger, Christoph Ta,b; Alter, Galita,b

Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS: May 2011 - Volume 6 - Issue 3 - p 208–213
doi: 10.1097/COH.0b013e3283457798
Elite controllers: Edited by Steven G. Deeks, Alexandre Harari and Joel Blankson

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.

aRagon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Infectious Disease Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, USA

bDivision of AIDS, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to Galit Alter, PhD, Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, 149 13th Street, Room 6618b, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA Tel: +1 617 724 0546; fax: +1 617 726 5411; e-mail:

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.