Impaired NK cell antiviral cytokine response against influenza virus in small-for-gestational-age neonates

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The neonates, particularly small-for-gestational-age (SGA) ones, are susceptible to various microbial infections. Natural killer (NK) cells are critical components of host innate immunity system and the main source of the inflammatory cytokines, which provide critical protection during the early phase of viral infections before the development of an appropriate adaptive immune response. However, little is known about the antiviral effects of NK cells in neonates especially the SGA population. Herein, a prospective descriptive study was performed to determine the differences of NK cell immunity among adults, appropriate-for gestational-age (AGA) and SGA neonates. Adults have much higher NK cell number in peripheral blood than that in cord blood from neonates. In response to influenza virus stimulation, neonatal NK cells, especially SGA baby cells, expressed significantly lower antiviral cytokines including perforin, interferon (IFN)-γ and tumor-necrosis factor (TNF)-α responses than adult NK cells. In addition, the antiviral cytokine responses of NK cells were positively correlated with neonatal birth weight. Our data suggested that the depressed antiviral activity and less frequency of NK cells are likely to be responsible for the high susceptibility to microbial infection in neonates, at least in part. Improving the function of innate immunity may provide a new way to defend virus infection.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 30973235 and 81170606), Science and Technology project of Sichuan Science and Technology Department (2010SZ0110), General Research Fund, Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (HKU 781211M) and the Area of Excellence Scheme of the University Grants Committee, Hong Kong SAR, China (AoE/M-12/06).

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  • influenza A virus
  • neonates
  • NK cells
  • SGA

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