Monocytes activate natural killer cells via inflammasome-induced interleukin 18 in response to hepatitis C virus replication

Elisavet Serti, Jens M. Werner, Michael Chattergoon, Andrea L. Cox, Volker Lohmann, Barbara Rehermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background & Aims Production of interferon (IFN)-γ by natural killer (NK) cells is attenuated during chronic infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). We investigated whether this is due to intrinsic or extrinsic mechanisms of NK cells. Methods Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were collected from patients with chronic HCV infection or uninfected blood donors (controls); NK cells and monocytes were isolated or eliminated. We cultured hepatoma cells that express luciferase-tagged subgenomic HCV replicons (Huh7/HCV replicon cells) or their HCV-negative counterparts (Huh7) with NK cells in the presence or absence of other populations of PBMCs. Antiviral activity, cytotoxicity, and cytokine production were assessed. Results NK cells produced greater amounts of IFN-γ when PBMC were cocultured with Huh7/HCV replicon cells than with Huh7 cells; NK cells and PBMCs from controls suppressed HCV replication to a greater extent than those from patients with chronic HCV infection. This antiviral effect was predominantly mediated by tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and IFN-γ. The antiviral activity of NK cells and their production of IFN-γ were reduced when they were used in coculture alone (rather than with PBMC), or after depletion of CD14+ monocytes, after knockdown of the inflammasome in monocytes, or after neutralization of interleukin-18, which is regulated by the inflammasome. These findings indicate a role for monocytes in NK cell activation. Compared with control monocytes, monocytes from patients with chronic HCV infection had reduced TNF-α-mediated (direct) and reduced NK cell-mediated (indirect) antiviral effects. Control monocytes increased the antiviral effects of NK cells from patients with chronic HCV infection and their production of IFN-γ. Conclusions Monocytes sense cells that contain replicating HCV and respond by producing interleukin-18 via the inflammasome and by activating NK cells. Patients with chronic HCV infection have reduced monocyte function, attenuating NK cell IFN-γ-mediated responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-220.e3
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Cytokine Production
  • Hepatocyte
  • Immune Response
  • Viral Replication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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