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Natural killer cells and Helicobacter pylori infection: bacterial antigens and interleukin-12 act synergistically to induce gamma interferon production

Journal article
Authors C. H. Yun
Anna Lundgren
Josef Azem
Åsa Sjöling
Jan Holmgren
Ann-Mari Svennerholm
Samuel B Lundin
Published in Infect Immun
Volume 73
Issue 3
Pages 1482-90
ISSN 0019-9567
Publication year 2005
Published at Institute of Medical Microbiology/Immunology
Pages 1482-90
Language en
Keywords Adult, Antigens, Bacterial/immunology/*pharmacology, Drug Synergism, Gastric Mucosa/cytology/immunology, Helicobacter Infections/*immunology/microbiology, Helicobacter pylori/*immunology/pathogenicity, Humans, Interferon Type II/*biosynthesis, Interleukin-12/immunology/*pharmacology, Intestinal Mucosa/cytology/immunology, Killer Cells, Natural/*immunology, Lymphocyte Activation, Middle Aged
Subject categories Microbiology in the medical area


Helicobacter pylori is known to induce a local immune response, which is characterized by activation of lymphocytes and the production of IFN-gamma in the stomach mucosa. Since not only T cells, but also natural killer (NK) cells, are potent producers of gamma interferon (IFN-gamma), we investigated whether NK cells play a role in the immune response to H. pylori infection. Our results showed that NK cells were present in both the gastric and duodenal mucosae but that H. pylori infection did not affect the infiltration of NK cells into the gastrointestinal area. Furthermore, we could show that NK cells could be activated directly by H. pylori antigens, as H. pylori bacteria, as well as lysate from H. pylori, induced the secretion of IFN-gamma by NK cells. NK cells were also activated without direct contact when separated from the bacteria by an epithelial cell layer, indicating that the activation of NK cells by H. pylori can also occur in vivo, in the infected stomach mucosa. Moreover, the production of IFN-gamma by NK cells was greatly enhanced when a small amount of interleukin-12 (IL-12) was added, and this synergistic effect was associated with increased expression of the IL-12 receptor beta2. It was further evident that bacterial lysate alone was sufficient to induce the activation of cytotoxicity-related molecules. In conclusion, we demonstrated that NK cells are present in the gastroduodenal mucosa of humans and that NK cells produce high levels of IFN-gamma when stimulated with a combination of H. pylori antigen and IL-12. We propose that NK cells play an active role in the local immune response to H. pylori infection.

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