Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research

Mouse Cytomegalovirus infection overrules T regulatory cell suppression on natural killer cells

Marc Lindenberg, Gulhas Solmaz, Franz Puttur* and Tim Sparwasser*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Infection Immunology, TWINCORE, Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research; a joint venture between the Medical School Hannover (MHH) and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), Feodor-Lynen-Strasse 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

Virology Journal 2014, 11:145  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-11-145

Published: 9 August 2014



Cytomegalovirus establishes lifelong persistency in the host and leads to life threatening situations in immunocompromised patients. FoxP3+ T regulatory cells (Tregs) critically control and suppress innate and adaptive immune responses. However, their specific role during MCMV infection, especially pertaining to their interaction with NK cells, remains incompletely defined.


To understand the contribution of Tregs on NK cell function during acute MCMV infection, we infected Treg depleted and undepleted DEREG mice with WT MCMV and examined Treg and NK cell frequency, number, activation and effector function in vivo.


Our results reveal an increased frequency of activated Tregs within the CD4+ T cell population shortly after MCMV infection. Specific depletion of Tregs in DEREG mice under homeostatic conditions leads to an increase in NK cell number as well as to a higher activation status of these cells as compared with non-depleted controls. Interestingly, upon infection this effect on NK cells is completely neutralized in terms of cell frequency, CD69 expression and functionality with respect to IFN-γ production. Furthermore, composition of the NK cell population with regard to Ly49H expression remains unchanged. In contrast, absence of Tregs still boosts the general T cell response upon infection to a level comparable to the enhanced activation seen in uninfected mice. CD4+ T cells especially benefit from Treg depletion exhibiting a two-fold increase of CD69+ cells 40 h and IFN-γ+ cells 7 days p.i. while, MCMV infection per se induces robust CD8+ T cell activation which is also further augmented in Treg-depleted mice. Nevertheless, the viral burden in the liver and spleen remain unaltered upon Treg ablation during the course of infection.


Thus, MCMV infection abolishes Treg suppressing effects on NK cells whereas T cells benefit from their absence during acute infection. This study provides novel information in understanding the collaborative interaction between NK cells and Tregs during a viral infection and provides further knowledge that could be adopted in therapeutic setups to improve current treatment of organ transplant patients where modulation of Tregs is envisioned as a strategy to overcome transplant rejection.

Mouse cytomegalovirus; Tregs; NK cells