Natural killer (NK) cells, a type of cytotoxic cell, lose their murderous proclivities in response to severe thermal injury. So reported Marshall D. Stein, PhD, at the recent Chicago meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). This finding might help to explain why burn patients are unusually susceptible to viral infection.
Stein, who is assistant professor, departments of surgery and microbiology, University of Texas Medical Branch, and chief, Division of Immunology/ Microbiology, Shriners Burn Institute, Galveston, found that NK cells (which appear to be large granular lymphocytes that lyse not only viral targets but also certain tumor cell lines) were strikingly inactive in badly burned patients. In a now-standard laboratory technique, he and colleagues Gary R. Klimpel, PhD, and David N. Herndon, MD, tested NK activity in vitro in blood samples from 14 normal control subjects and 15 burn patients against radiolabeled cells of an erythroid