In an earlier article, we reported that serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) inhibits the natural killer cell (NK) cytotoxicity of human whole blood in a dose-dependent manner and that natural human interferon-α (IFN-α) partially eliminates this effect. Because natural IFN-α might contain factors other than IFN, we repeated these experiments with recombinant human interferon-α (rhIFN-α) and separated blood lymphocytes enriched with NK cells and then demonstrated that IFN really is responsible for this effect. Furthermore, this investigation was carried out to clarify the mechanisms of the action of 5-HT and of rhIFN-α on NK cells. The inhibition of the cytotoxicity was pronounced when 5-HT was added at the onset of the cytotoxic assay, whereas the pretreatment of lymphocytes for 18 h only led to a slight inhibition. Moreover, rhIFN-α applied 1 h before or 1 h after the addition of 5-HT decreased the inhibitory effect of 5-HT. Flow cytometric analysis involving the use of a voltage-sensitive dye, oxonol, revealed that 5-HT depolarized, whereas rhIFN-α hyperpolarized the plasma membrane of the lymphocytes. Thus, it seems likely that the inhibitory effect of 5-HT on the cytotoxicity of peripheral human lymphocytes is due to the depolarization on the plasma membrane of the effector cells and that rhIFN-α antagonizes this ability via its hyperpolarizing activity.
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