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Possible role of highly activated mucosal NK cells against viral respiratory infections in children undergoing haematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Infection is the leading cause of non-relapse-related mortality after allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Altered functions of immune cells in nasal secretions may influence post HSCT susceptibility to viral respiratory infections. In this prospective study, we determined T and NK cell numbers together with NK activation status in nasopharyngeal aspirates (NPA) in HSCT recipients and healthy controls using multiparametric flow cytometry. We also determined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) the presence of 16 respiratory viruses. Samples were collected pre-HSCT, at day 0, +10, +20 and +30 after HSCT. Peripheral blood (PB) was also analyzed to determine T and NK cell numbers. A total of 27 pediatric HSCT recipients were enrolled and 16 of them had at least one viral detection (60%). Rhinovirus was the most frequent pathogen (84% of positive NPAs). NPAs of patients contained fewer T and NK cells compared to healthy controls (p = 0.0132 and p = 0.120, respectively). Viral PCR + patients showed higher NK cell number in their NPAs. The activating receptors repertoire expressed by NK cells was also higher in NPA samples, especially NKp44 and NKp46. Our study supports NK cells relevance for the immune defense against respiratory viruses in HSCT recipients.

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