Circulating NK cells and their subsets in Behçet's disease
Clinical and Experimental Immunology
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Behçet's disease (BD) is an autoinflammatory, chronic relapsing/remitting disease of unknown aetiology with both innate and acquired immune cells implicated in disease pathogenesis. Peripheral blood natural killer (NK) cells and their CD56Dim /CD56Bright subsets were surface phenotyped using CD27 and CD16 surface markers in 60 BD patients compared to 60 healthy controls (HCs). Functional potential was assessed by production of interferon (IFN)-γ, granzyme B, perforin and the expression of degranulation marker CD107a. The effects of disease activity (BDActive versus BDQuiet ) and BD medication on NK cells were also investigated. Peripheral blood NK cells (P < 0·0001) and their constituent CD56Dim (P < 0·0001) and CD56Bright (P = 0·0015) subsets were depleted significantly in BD patients compared to HCs, and especially in those with active disease (BDActive ) (P < 0·0001). BD patients taking azathioprine also had significantly depleted NK cells compared to HCs (P < 0·0001). A stepwise multivariate linear regression model confirmed BD activity and azathioprine therapy as significant independent predictor variables of peripheral blood NK percentage (P < 0·001). In general, CD56Dim cells produced more perforin (P < 0·0001) and granzyme B (P < 0·01) expressed higher CD16 levels (P < 0·0001) compared to CD56Bright cells, confirming their increased cytotoxic potential with overall higher NK cell CD107a expression in BD compared to HCs (P < 0·01). Interestingly, IFN-γ production and CD27 expression were not significantly different between CD56Dim /CD56Bright subsets. In conclusion, both BD activity and azathioprine therapy have significant independent depletive effects on the peripheral blood NK cell compartment.