Definition of the functions by which the cellular immune system contributes to control of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection should permit determination of the specific defects which result in the increased susceptibility to infection of immunosuppressed individuals. Using a murine model, we studied the cytotoxic lymphocyte response to murine CMV infection. This response was found to be biphasic. The initial phase extended from the 3rd to the 6th d after infection, was not genetically restricted, and correlated to a rise in numbers of natural killer (NK) and antibody-dependent killer (K) cells in spleens. The NK- and K-cell responses were preceded, by 24 h, by a rise in serum interferon levels, and occurred before the time when antibody could be measured in serum by neutralization. NK and K cells appear to develop the capacity for specific recognition of CMV-infected cells and the potential to contribute to control of the acute phase of CMV infection.

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