A low frequency peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) subpopulation, referred to as natural interferon-producing (NIP) cells, is described as producing interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) following contact with non-infectious viral structures, namely viral glycoproteins. These cells are characterized in vitro as non-T, non-B, MHC class II+ and CD4+ cells. In this study, NIP cells were analysed in vivo after an intravenous injection of UV-inactivated transmissible gastroenteritis virus in newborn piglets, which resulted in strong serum IFN-alpha production. Splenocytes, but not PBMC, were the IFN-alpha producers in vivo. Using double immunohistochemical labelling for both IFN-alpha and leukocyte markers, we established that splenic NIP cells were not T or B cells. The majority were MHC class II+ and only a minority expressed a macrophage marker. NIP cells were localized in contact with MHC class II-expressing cells and T cells, which suggested that NIP cells might modulate the antiviral immune response.


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