A role for natural killer cells in the immunopathogenesis of multiple sclerosis.


Kastrukoff LF, Morgan NG, Zecchini D




J Neuroimmunol


Seventeen relapsing-remitting (R/R) multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and age/sex matched controls were studied every 6 weeks for 2 years. Disease activity, determined both clinically and by serial MRI, was correlated with natural killer (NK) cell functional activity (FA) and phenotype. Mean NK cell FA is significantly lower in MS patients, compared to controls (P < 0.001), while variability around the means is significantly greater (P < 0.01). The spectrum of mean NK cell FA, observed in the patient cohort, along with cyclical nature of the FA and phenotype over time, observed in both patients and controls, may begin to explain the discrepant results reported in previous studies. In R/R MS, there is a significant correlation between reductions (valleys) in NK cell FA and the development of active lesions on MRI, new (P < 0.001) or enlarging (P = 0.05). More importantly, a significant number of active lesions, new (P = 0.01) and enlarging (P = 0.02), are preceded by a reduction in NK cell FA. The correlation between the onset of clinical attacks and valleys of NK cell FA is also significant (P = 0.002). When taken together, the results suggest that reductions (valleys) in NK cell FA represent periods of susceptibility for the development of active lesions on MRI and clinical attacks. A significant positive correlation is also identified between mean NK cell FA for each R/R MS patient and total number of active MRI lesions developed by that patient over the 2 years (P = 0.001). The results would suggest that R/R MS patients with a higher mean NK cell FA are at greater risk for the development of active lesions. These results support the proposal that NK cells may play a role in the immunopathogenesis of R/R MS.