Virologica Sinica

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 122–129 | Cite as

Avian influenza virus directly infects human natural killer cells and inhibits cell activity

  • Huawei MaoEmail author
  • Yinping Liu
  • Sin Fun Sia
  • J. S. Malik Peiris
  • Yu-Lung Lau
  • Wenwei TuEmail author
Research Article


Natural killer (NK) cell is a key component of innate immunity and plays an important role in host defense against virus infection by directly destroying infected cells. Influenza is a respiratory disease transmitted in the early phase of virus infection. Evasion of host innate immunity including NK cells is critical for the virus to expand and establish a successful acute infection. Previously, we showed that human influenza H1N1 virus infects NK cells and induces cell apoptosis, as well as inhibits NK cell activity. In this study, we further demonstrated that avian influenza virus also directly targeted NK cells as an immunoevasion strategy. The avian virus infected human NK cells and induced cell apoptosis. In addition, avian influenza virion and HA protein inhibited NK cell cytotoxicity. This novel strategy has obvious advantages for avian influenza virus, allowing the virus sufficient time to expand and subsequent spread before the onset of the specific immune response. Our findings provide an important clue for the immunopathogenesis of avian influenza, and also suggest that direct targeting NK cells may be a common strategy used by both human and avian influenza viruses to evade NK cell immunity.


natural killer (NK) cell avian influenza virus (AIV) immunoevasion direction infection inhibition cytotoxicity 



This work was supported in part by Theme-based Research Scheme (Project No. T11-705/14N), the General Research Fund (HKU 780113M, 17121214 and 17115015), Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR, and Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Committee (JCYJ20140411175241066), China.

Author Contributions

HM, JSMP, YLL and WT designed the study. HM, YL and SFS performed the study. HM and WT analyzed the data and wrote the paper.

Compliance with Ethics Guidelines

The authors declare that they have no competing interest. This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by the any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Wuhan Institute of Virology, CAS and Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PaediatricsThe University of Hong Kong - Shenzhen HospitalShenzhenChina
  2. 2.Department of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Li Ka Shing Faculty of MedicineThe University of Hong KongHong Kong SARChina
  3. 3.Department of MicrobiologyThe University of Hong KongHong Kong SARChina
  4. 4.Shenzhen Engineering Laboratory of PID Diagnosis & Therapy TechnologyShenzhenChina

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