Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease characterized by clinical relapse and remission. Because of the potential role of natural killer (NK) cells in the regulation of autoimmunity, we have examined cytokine profile and surface phenotype of NK cells in the peripheral blood of MS. Here we demonstrate that NK cells in the remission of MS are characterized by a remarkable elevation of IL-5 mRNA and a decreased expression of IL-12Rβ2 mRNA, as well as a higher expression of CD95. Moreover, the NK cells from MS in remission produced much larger amounts of IL-5 than did those from controls after stimulation with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) and ionomycin. These features are reminiscent of those of NK type 2 (NK2) cells that can be induced in a condition favoring functional deviation of T cells toward Th2. Remarkably, the NK cells lose the NK2-like property when relapse of MS occurs, but regain it after recovery. We also found that NK2 cells induced in vitro inhibit induction of Th1 cells, suggesting that the NK2-like cells in vivo may also prohibit autoimmune effector T cells. Taken together, it is possible that NK cells play an active role in maintaining the remission of MS.
Kazuya Takahashi, Sachiko Miyake, Takayuki Kondo, Keiji Terao, Megumi Hatakenaka, Shuji Hashimoto, Takashi Yamamura