ERK1/2, MEK1/2 and p38 downstream signalling molecules impaired in CD56dimCD16+ and CD56brightCD16dim- natural killer cells in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients

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Huth, TK
Staines, D
Marshall-Gradisnik, S
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Background: Natural Killer (NK) cell effector functions are dependent on phosphorylation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) pathway to produce an effective immune response for the clearance of target cells infected with viruses, bacteria or malignantly transformed cells. Intracellular signals activating NK cell cytokine production and cytotoxic activity are propagated through protein phosphorylation of MAPKs including MEK1/2, ERK1/2, p38 and JNK. Reduced NK cell cytotoxic activity is consistently reported in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) patients and intracellular signalling by MAPK in NK cells remains to be investigated. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was to investigate MAPK downstream signalling molecules in NK cell phenotypes from CFS/ME patients.

Methods: Flow cytometric protocols were used to measure phosphorylation of the MAPK pathway in CD56brightCD16dim/− and CD56dimCD16+ NK cells following stimulation with K562 tumour cells or phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate plus ionomycin. NK cell cytotoxic activity, degranulation, lytic proteins and cytokine production were also measured as markers for CD56brightCD16dim/− and CD56dimCD16+ NK cell function using flow cytometric protocols.

Results: CFS/ME patients (n = 14) had a significant decrease in ERK1/2 in CD56dimCD16+ NK cells compared to the non-fatigued controls (n = 11) after incubation with K562 cells. CD56brightCD16dim/− NK cells from CFS/ME patients had a significant increase in MEK1/2 and p38 following incubation with K562 cells.

Conclusions: This is the first study to report significant differences in MAPK intracellular signalling molecules in CD56dimCD16+ and CD56brightCD16dim/− NK cells from CFS/ME patients. The current results highlight the importance of intracellular signalling through the MAPK pathway for synergistic effector function of CD56dimCD16+ and CD56brightCD16dim/− NK cells to ensure efficient clearance of target cells. In CFS/ME patients, dysfunctional MAPK signalling may contribute to reduced NK cell cytotoxic activity.

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Journal of Translational Medicine

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© 2016 Huth et al. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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