Infection of Human Cell Lines by Japanese Encephalitis Virus : Increased Expression and Release of HLA-E, a Non-classical HLA Molecule
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Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) causes viral encephalitis in new born and young adults that is prevalent in different parts of India and other parts of South East Asia with an estimated 6000 deaths per year. JEV is a single stranded RNA virus that belongs to the Flavivirusgenus of the family Flaviviridae. It is a neurotropic virus which infects the central nervous system (CNS). The virus follows a zoonotic life-cycle involving mosquitoes and vertebrates, chiefly pigs and ardeid birds, as amplifying hosts. Humans are dead end hosts. After entry into the host following a mosquito bite, JEV infection leads to acute peripheral leukocytosis in the brain and damage to Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). The exact role of the endothelial cells during CNS infection is still unclear. However, disruption of this endothelial barrier has been shown to be an important step in entry of the virus into the brain. Humoral and cell mediated immune responses during JEV infection have been intensively investigated. Previous studies from our lab have shown the activation of cytotoxic T-cells (CTLs) upon JEV infection. MHC molecules play pivotal role in eliciting both adaptive (T-cells) and innate (NK cells) immune response against viral invasion. Many viruses such as HIV, MCMV, HCMV, AdV and EBV have been found to decrease MHC expression upon infection. On the contrary, flaviviruses like West Nile Virus (WNV) have been found to increase MHC-I and MHC-II expression. More recently, data from our lab has shown that JEV infection can lead to upregulation of mouse non-classical MHC class Ib molecules like Qb1, Qa1 and T-10 along with classical MHC molecules. Non-classical MHC molecules are important components of the innate and adaptive immune systems. Non-classical MHC molecules differ from their classical MHC class I counterparts by their limited polymorphism, restricted tissue distribution and lower levels of cell surface expression. Human classical MHC class I molecules are HLA-A, -B and –C while non-classical MHC Class Ib molecules are HLA-E, -G and –F. HLA-E, the human homologue of the mouse non-classical MHC molecule, Qa-1b has been shown to be the ligand for the inhibitory NK, NKG2A/CD94 and may bridge innate and adaptive immune responses. In this thesis, we have studied the expression of human classical class I molecules HLA-A, -B, -C and the non-classical HLA molecule, HLA-E in immortalized human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMEC), human endothelial like cell line ECV304 (ECV), human glioblastoma cell line U87MG and human foreskin fibroblast cells (HFF). We observed an upregulation of classical HLA molecules and HLA-E mRNA in endothelial and fibroblast cells upon JEV infection. This mRNA increase also resulted in upregulation of cell surface classical HLA molecules and HLA-E in HFF cells but not in both the human endothelial cell lines, ECV and HBMECs. Release of soluble classical HLA molecules upon cytokine treatment has been a long known phenomenon. Recently HLA-E has also been shown to be released as a 37 kDa protein from endothelial cells upon cytokine treatments. Our study suggests that JEV mediated upregulation of classical HLA and HLA-E upregulation leads to release of both Classical HLA molecules and HLA-E as soluble forms in the human endothelial cell lines, ECV and HBMEC. This shedding of sHLA-E from human endothelial cells was found to be mediated by matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) proteolytic activity. MMP-9, a protease implicated in release of sHLA molecules was also found to be upregulated upon JEV infection only in endothelial cell lines but not in HFF cells. Our study provides evidence that the JEV mediated solubilisation of HLA-E could be mediated by MMP-9. Further, we have tried to understand the role of the MAPK pathway and NF-κB pathway in the process of HLA-E solubilisation by using specific inhibitors of these pathways during JEV infection of ECV cells. Our data suggests that release of sHLA-E is dependent on p38 and JNK pathways while ERK 1/2 and NF-κB pathway only had a minor role to play in this process. Treatment of endothelial cells with TNF-α, IL-1β and IFN-γ is known to result in release of sHLA-E. In addition to TNF-α and IFNtreatment, we observed that activating agents like poly (I:C), LPS and PMA also resulted in the shedding of sHLA-E from ECV as well as U87MG but not from HFF cells. Treatment of endothelial cells with IFN-β, a type-I interferon also led to release of sHLA-E. IFN-γ, a type II interferon and TNF-α are known to show additive increase in solubilisation of HLA-E. We studied the interaction between type I interferon, IFN-β and TNF-α with regard to shedding of sHLA- E. Both IFNand TNF, when present together caused an additive increase in the shedding of sHLA-E. These two cytokines were also found to potentiate the HLA-E and MMP-9 mRNA expression. Hence, our data suggest that these two cytokines could be working conjunctly to release HLA-E, when these two cytokines are present together as in the case of virus infection of endothelial cells. HLA-E is known to be a ligand for NKG2A/CD94 inhibitory receptors present on NK and a subset of T cells. Previous reports have suggested that NKG2A/CD94 mediated signaling events could inhibit ERK 1/2 phosphorylation leading to inhibition of NK cell activation. IL-2 mediated ERK 1/2 phosphorylation is known to play a very important role in maintenance and activation of NK cells. We studied the effects of sHLA-E that was released, either by JEV infection or IFN-γ treatment on IL-2 mediated ERK 1/2 phosphorylation in two NK cell lines, Nishi and NKL. The soluble HLA-E that was released upon JEV infection was functionally active since it inhibited IL-2 and PMA induced phosphorylation of ERK 1/2 in NKL and Nishi cells. Virus infected or IFN-γ treated ECV cell culture supernatants containing sHLA-E was also found to partially inhibit IL-2 mediated induction of CD25 molecules on NKL cells. CD25 is a component of the high affinity IL-2 receptor and hence could play an important role in proliferation and activation of NK cells. sHLA-E was also found to inhibit IL-2 induced [3H]-thymidine incorporation suggesting that, similar to cell surface expressed HLA-E, sHLA-E could also inhibit the proliferation and activation of NK cells. In summary, we found that establishment of JEV infection and production of cytokines like IFN-β, TNF-α, IL-6 along with MMP-9 in human endothelial cells. These cytokines may also indirectly lead to the reported damage and leukocyte infiltration across infected and uninfected vicinal endothelial cells. The increased surface expression of HLA-E in fibroblast and release of sHLA and sHLA-E molecules from endothelial cells may have an important immunoregulatory role. HLA-E is an inhibitory ligand for NKG2A/CD94 positive CD8+ T and NK cells. Hence our finding that sHLA-E can inhibit NK cell proliferation suggests an immune evasive strategy by JEV.
- Biochemistry (BC) 
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