Unbiased Screening Identifies Functional Differences in NK Cells After Early Life Psychosocial Stress

Sara B. Fernandes, Neha D. Patil, Sophie Meriaux, Maud Theresine, Claude P. Muller, Fleur A.D. Leenen, Martha M.C. Elwenspoek, Jacques Zimmer, Jonathan D. Turner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Early Life Adversity (ELA) is closely associated with the risk for developing diseases later in life, such as autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. In humans, early parental separation, physical and sexual abuse or low social-economic status during childhood are known to have great impact on brain development, in the hormonal system and immune responses. Maternal deprivation (MD) is the closest animal model available to the human situation. This paradigm induces long lasting behavioral effects, causes changes in the HPA axis and affects the immune system. However, the mechanisms underlying changes in the immune response after ELA are still not fully understood. In this study we investigated how ELA changes the immune system, through an unbiased analysis, viSNE, and addressed specially the NK immune cell population and its functionality. We have demonstrated that maternal separation, in both humans and rats, significantly affects the sensitivity of the immune system in adulthood. Particularly, NK cells’ profile and response to target cell lines are significantly changed after ELA. These immune cells in rats are not only less cytotoxic towards YAC-1 cells, but also show a clear increase in the expression of maturation markers after 3h of maternal separation. Similarly, individuals who suffered from ELA display significant changes in the cytotoxic profile of NK cells together with decreased degranulation capacity. These results suggest that one of the key mechanisms by which the immune system becomes impaired after ELA might be due to a shift on the senescent state of the cells, specifically NK cells. Elucidation of such a mechanism highlights the importance of ELA prevention and how NK targeted immunotherapy might help attenuating ELA consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number674532
Pages (from-to)674532
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2021


  • NK cell
  • early life stress
  • immune system
  • maternal deprivation
  • natural killer cells


Dive into the research topics of 'Unbiased Screening Identifies Functional Differences in NK Cells After Early Life Psychosocial Stress'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this