Natural killer (NK) cells during chronic viral infection have been well studied in the past. We performed an unbiased next-generation RNA-sequencing approach to identify commonalities or differences of the effect of HIV, HCV, and HBV viremia on NK cell transcriptomes. Using cell sorting, we obtained CD3− CD56+ NK cells from blood of 6 HIV-, 8 HCV-, and 32 HBV-infected patients without treatment. After library preparation and sequencing, we used an in-house analytic pipeline to compare expression levels with matched healthy controls. In NK cells from HIV-, HCV-, and HBV-infected patients, transcriptome analysis identified 272, 53, and 56 differentially expressed genes, respectively (fold change, >1.5; q-value, 0.2). Interferon-stimulated genes were induced in NK cells from HIV/HCV patients, but not during HBV infection. HIV viremia downregulated ribosome assembly genes in NK cells. In HBV-infected patients, viral load and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) variation had little effect on genes related to NK effector function. In conclusion, we compare, for the first time, NK cell transcripts of viremic HIV, HCV, and HBV patients. We clearly demonstrate distinctive NK cell gene signatures in three different populations, suggestive for a different degree of functional alterations of the NK cell compartment compared to healthy individuals. IMPORTANCE Three viruses exist that can result in persistently high viral loads in immunocompetent humans: human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus, and hepatitis B virus. In the last decades, by using flow cytometry and in vitro assays on NK cells from patients with these types of infections, several impairments have been established, particularly during and possibly contributing to HIV viremia. However, the background of NK cell impairments in viremic patients is not well understood. In this study, we describe the NK cell transcriptomes of patients with high viral loads of different etiologies. We clearly demonstrate distinctive NK cell gene signatures with regard to interferon-stimulated gene induction and the expression of genes coding for activation markers or proteins involved in cytotoxic action, as well immunological genes. This study provides important details necessary to uncover the origin of functional and phenotypical differences between viremic patients and healthy subjects and provides many leads that can be confirmed using future in vitro manipulation experiments.

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Journal Journal of Virology
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Boeijen, L.L, Hou, J., de Groen, R.A., Verbon, A, & Boonstra, P.A. (2019). Persistent Replication of HIV, Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), and HBV Results in Distinct Gene Expression Profiles by Human NK Cells. Journal of Virology, 93(9). doi:10.1128/jvi.00575-18