In spite of the available information on the role of natural killer (NK) cells in several viral infections, the interactions between chicken intraepithelial-NK (IEL-NK) cells and Newcastle disease virus (NDV) are poorly understood. In this study, we investigated these interactions following the inoculation of chickens with NDV vaccine strain LaSota and subsequent challenge with velogenic NDV (vNDV) genotype VII (GVII) and VIII (GVIII), through quantification of IEL-NK cell's apoptosis and expression profiling of its surface receptors. Specific-pathogen-free chickens were randomly divided into six groups, as follows: one group of an uninfected control, one group infected with NDV LaSota, two groups each infected with either GVII or GVIII, and two groups inoculated with NDV LaSota and challenged with either GVII (LaSota-genotype VII [LSGVII]) or GVIII (LaSota-genotype VIII [LSGVIII]). Avian intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) were isolated from the duodenal loops, and CD3– cells were characterized. Immunophenotyping and apoptosis analysis of CD3–/CD25+/CD45+IEL NK cells were conducted using a flow cytometer. In addition, a gene expression study was conducted using real-time quantitative PCR. Data were analyzed using two-way analysis of variance. The results showed that vNDV GVII or GVIII caused apoptosis of IEL-NK cells; however, following inoculation of LSGVII or LSGVIII, the effect of vNDV GVII and GVIII to cause a reduction in the population of viable IEL-NK cells was significantly reduced. Furthermore, the expression profiles of activating receptors CD69, NK-lysin, and IFN-γ, were generally upregulated in chickens inoculated with LSGVII or LSGVIII. In contrast, B-NK, an inhibitory receptor, was downregulated in these treatment groups. In NDV GVII- and GVIII-challenged groups, however, B-NK was upregulated, whereas the other receptors were generally downregulated. The findings of this study showed that NDV vaccine strain LaSota may prevent apoptosis and cause upregulation of activating receptors of chicken IEL-NK cells in velogenic virus–challenged settings.

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