Center of Excellence for Biomedical Research, University of Genova, Genova, Italy.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection induces the long-term risk of liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma and in adults represents the most common cause of liver transplantation. Natural killer (NK) cells participate in innate immune responses with efficient direct antitumor and antiviral defense. Over the years, their complex interaction with downstream adaptive responses and with the regulation of immune responses has been increasingly recognized. Considerable advances have been made particularly in understanding the role of NK cells in the pathophysiology of HCV infection and their possible use as biological markers for clinical purposes. This review summarizes the available data on the role of NK cells in the natural history of HCV infection and their role in the outcome of treatment. The main objective of this review is to summarize recent advancements in the basic understanding of NK cell function highlighting their possible translational use in clinical practice. An integrated practical view on the possible use of currently available predictive immunogenetic and NK cell functional tests is provided, to support clinical management choices for optimal treatment of patients with both standard and new drug regimens.