Researchers from the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Pompeu Fabra University (DCEXS-UPF) and the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) have found the way that the Natural Killer (NK) cells of the immune system reduce Epstein-Barr virus infections without killing B lymphocytes, their host cells.
This virus of the herpesvirus family is very widespread in the population in a latent way and can cause infectious mononucleosis. Upon entry into the body, it infects B lymphocytes. After that, the NK cells detect the infected cells and kill them in order to stop the viral process.
Now, a scientific team discovered that when NKs are activated by the presence of antibodies against viral particles before the virus enters the body, they could recognize and eliminate these viral particles without killing the lymphocytes.
“In this way the probability of infection is reduced while respecting the B cells”
Miguel López-Botet, professor at UPF and immunologist at Hospital de Mar.
According to the authors, the mechanism could also be applied to other viruses infections, but its effectiveness is yet to be verified and further research will be needed.
Alari-Pahissa E, Ataya M, Moraitis I, Campos-Ruiz M, Altadill M, et al. (2021) NK cells eliminate Epstein-Barr virus bound to B cells through a specific antibody-mediated uptake. PLOS Pathogens 17(8): e1009868.