Firefighters in a burning building will check doors and rooms for fire or smoke. If something is not right, they activate resources to address the issue. Natural Killer cells function in a similar way: they patrol our cells asking each one how things are going. Depending on the response they get, the Natural Killer cells will either keep going on their patrol or stop and deal with the viral infection or cancer cells they find. Scientists in this study discovered one of the mechanisms by which these immune cells determine what to do next in cases of COVID 19 infection.
Natural killer cells belong to our innate immune system, the arm which can recognize an invader without having seen it before. This allows it to react faster and more broadly to infections than our adaptive system. Our adaptive immune system reacts to specific invaders and responds more slowly unless it has seen that particular infectious invader before. The faster and broader reactivity allows the natural killer cells to recognize cells infected by viruses or cells that have mutated into cancer cells earlier.
If not obvious, the earlier reaction to viral infected cells or cancer cells allows our immune system to get a jump on containing either of these problems which can grow into a major fire quickly. For example, some research indicates that the speed and intensity of our natural killer cell response to COVID 19 plays a significant role in whether the infection produces milder symptoms or severe disease.
In our clinic, we have long followed the number of natural killer cells floating in patient’s blood for reasons other than COVID. In dealing with patients with Lyme infections and mold toxicities, we often see the number of natural killer cells running on the low side. We know that having fewer natural killer cells can increase the risk of other infections like EBV (mono). We want to rid the patient of Lyme and mold toxicity for a multitude of reasons, but this natural killer cell count becomes another measure of our progress. Along with other biotoxin markers that we want to see go lower, we want to see the natural killer cell count, as measured by CD57, go back to normal.
For researchers in this study, they found the interaction between HLA-E (human leukocyte antigen – E) and a receptor on the natural killer cells provided the opportunity to warn the natural killer cells of a viral growth inside the cells. Normally, the HLA-E antigen would show pieces of self-proteins from the cell to the natural killer cells, indicating that internally all was well. This inhibited the natural killer cell from attacking. When SARS-CoV2, the virus behind COVID-19, was growing in the cell, a different protein was presented. The natural killer cells would activate and attack the virus-infected cell before it could release more virus.
Other references within the article discuss how natural killer cell function and numbers may affect COVID – 19 infection, all supporting our effort to optimize natural killer cell numbers in our patients. Besides removing toxins and infections that hinder the production of these important cells, we also utilize a few nutraceuticals which raise the numbers. Looking at the whole person and applying the best of both worlds of medicine means we can improve our patient’s chances against viruses of various types. Just another part of helping them liver healthier, more abundant lives.
Quirin Hammer, Josefine Dunst, Wanda Christ, Francesca Picarazzi, Mareike Wendorff, Pouria Momayyezi, Oisín Huhn, Herman K. Netskar, Kimia T. Maleki, Marina García, Takuya Sekine, Ebba Sohlberg, Valerio Azzimato, Myriam Aouadi, Frauke Degenhardt, Andre Franke, Francesco Spallotta, Mattia Mori, Jakob Michaëlsson, Niklas K. Björkström, Timo Rückert, Chiara Romagnani, Amir Horowitz, Jonas Klingström, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Karl-Johan Malmberg. SARS-CoV-2 Nsp13 encodes for an HLA-E-stabilizing peptide that abrogates inhibition of NKG2A-expressing NK cells. Cell Reports, 2022; 110503 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110503
Thanks to Science Daily:
Karolinska Institutet. “Why natural killer cells react to COVID-19.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 February 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/02/220222135226.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.