Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Human Herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) are believed to involve in multiple sclerosis (MS) pathogenesis. Natural killer (NK) and CD8+ T cells have essential roles in handling viral infections and their phenotypic and functional properties may be influenced following exposure to viral infections. Here, we investigated the association of NK and CD8+ T cells subpopulations frequency with EBV and HHV-6 viral load in MS patients.
In this case-control study, EBV and HHV-6 viral load were evaluated in plasma of newly diagnosed relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) patients at relapse phase (n=23), who were not on disease-modifying therapy (DMT), and sex- and age-matched healthy controls (n=19) using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The frequency of NK and CD8+ T cells subsets were assessed by CD27, CD28, CD45RO, CD56, and CD57 markers using flow cytometry.
Despite the increased level of EBV viral load in RRMS patients compared to the control group, there was no statistically significant difference in EBV and HHV-6 copy numbers between the studied groups. In addition, a significant decrease was observed in the percentages of CD56bright CD57- and CD56dim CD57+ CD8low CD45RO- NK cells in RRMS patients in comparison to healthy controls. Analysis of CD8+ T cell subsets showed a substantially high proportion of CD27+ CD28+ CD45RO+ CD57- CD8hi T cells in patients at relapse phase compared to controls. The frequency of NK and T cells subtypes was not associated with EBV and HHV6 plasma viral loads
These findings further highlight the variation of NK and CD8+ T cells subsets frequency in clinically active RRMS patients. Since the composition of cells was not associated with EBV and HHV-6 viral load, perhaps other viral infections may be involved in altered NK and CD8+ T cells subpopulation. Larger cohort studies are needed to confirm these results.