The persistence of virally infected cells as reservoirs despite effective antiretroviral therapy is a major barrier to an HIV/SIV cure. These reservoirs are predominately contained within cells present in the B cell follicles (BCFs) of secondary lymphoid tissues, a site that is characteristically difficult for most cytolytic antiviral effector cells to penetrate. Here, we identified a population of NK cells in macaque lymph nodes that expressed BCF-homing receptor CXCR5 and accumulated within BCFs during chronic SHIV infection. These CXCR5+ follicular NK cells exhibited an activated phenotype coupled with heightened effector functions and a unique transcriptome characterized by elevated expression of cytolytic mediators (e.g., perforin and granzymes, LAMP-1). CXCR5+ NK cells exhibited high expression of FcγRIIa and FcγRIIIa, suggesting a potential for elevated antibody-dependent effector functionality. Consistently, accumulation of CXCR5+ NK cells showed a strong inverse association with plasma viral load and the frequency of germinal center follicular Th cells that comprise a significant fraction of the viral reservoir. Moreover, CXCR5+ NK cells showed increased expression of transcripts associated with IL-12 and IL-15 signaling compared with the CXCR5– subset. Indeed, in vitro treatment with IL-12 and IL-15 enhanced the proliferation of CXCR5+ granzyme B+ NK cells. Our findings suggest that follicular homing NK cells might be important in immune control of chronic SHIV infection, and this may have important implications for HIV cure strategies.
Sheikh Abdul Rahman, James M. Billingsley, Ashish Arunkumar Sharma, Tiffany M. Styles, Sakthivel Govindaraj, Uma Shanmugasundaram, Hemalatha Babu, Susan Pereira Riberio, Syed A. Ali, Gregory K. Tharp, Chris Ibegbu, Stephen N. Waggoner, R. Paul Johnson, Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, Francois Villinger, Steve E. Bosinger, Rama Rao Amara, Vijayakumar Velu