Influenza vaccination often results in a large percentage of low responders, especially in high-risk groups. As a first line of defense, natural killer (NK) cells play a crucial role in the fight against infections. However, their implication with regard to vaccine responsiveness is insufficiently assessed. Therefore, this study aimed at the validation of essential NK cell features potentially associated with differential vaccine responsiveness with a special focus on NKG2C- and/or CD57-expressing NK cells considered to harbor memory-like functions. To this end, 16 healthy volunteers were vaccinated with an adjuvanted pandemic influenza vaccine. Vaccine responders and low responders were classified according to their hemagglutination inhibition antibody titers. A majority of responders displayed enhanced frequencies of NKG2C-expressing NK cells 7- or 14-days post-vaccination as compared to low responders, whereas the expression of CD57 was not differentially modulated. The NK cell cytotoxic potential was found to be confined to CD56dim
NKG2C-expressing NK cells in the responders but not in the low responders, which was further confirmed by stochastic neighbor embedding analysis. The presented study is the first of its kind that ascribes CD56dim
NKG2C-expressing NK cells a crucial role in biasing adaptive immune responses upon influenza vaccination and suggests NKG2C as a potential biomarker in predicting pandemic influenza vaccine responsiveness.
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