In mice, plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) and natural killer (NK) cells both contribute to resistance to systemic infections with herpes viruses including mouse Cytomegalovirus (MCMV). pDCs are the major source of type I IFN (IFN-I) during MCMV infection. This response requires pDC-intrinsic MyD88-dependent signaling by Toll-Like Receptors 7 and 9. Provided that they express appropriate recognition receptors such as Ly49H, NK cells can directly sense and kill MCMV-infected cells. The loss of any one of these responses increases susceptibility to infection. However, the relative importance of these antiviral immune responses and how they are related remain unclear. In humans, while IFN-I responses are essential, MyD88 is dispensable for antiviral immunity. Hence, a higher redundancy has been proposed in the mechanisms promoting protective immune responses against systemic infections by herpes viruses during natural infections in humans. It has been assumed, but not proven, that mice fail to mount protective MyD88-independent IFN-I responses. In humans, the mechanism that compensates MyD88 deficiency has not been elucidated. To address these issues, we compared resistance to MCMV infection and immune responses between mouse strains deficient for MyD88, the IFN-I receptor and/or Ly49H. We show that selective depletion of pDC or genetic deficiencies for MyD88 or TLR9 drastically decreased production of IFN-I, but not the protective antiviral responses. Moreover, MyD88, but not IFN-I receptor, deficiency could largely be compensated by Ly49H-mediated antiviral NK cell responses. Thus, contrary to the current dogma but consistent with the situation in humans, we conclude that, in mice, in our experimental settings, MyD88 is redundant for IFN-I responses and overall defense against a systemic herpes virus infection. Moreover, we identified direct NK cell sensing of infected cells as one mechanism able to compensate for MyD88 deficiency in mice. Similar mechanisms likely contribute to protect MyD88- or IRAK4-deficient patients from viral infections.
Type I interferons (IFN-I) are innate cytokines crucial for vertebrate antiviral defenses. IFN-I exert antiviral effector functions and orchestrate antiviral immunity. IFN-I are induced early after infection, upon sensing of viral particles or infected cells by immune receptors. Intracellular Toll-like receptors (TLR) are selectively expressed in specialized immune cell types such as plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC), enabling them to copiously produce IFN-I upon detection of engulfed viral nucleic acids. pDC or intracellular TLR have been reported to be crucial for resistance to experimental infections with many viruses in mice but dispensable for resistance to natural infections in humans. Our aim was to investigate this puzzling difference. Mice deficient for TLR activity mounted strong IFN-I responses despite producing very low IFN-I levels and controlled the infection by a moderate dose of murine cytomegalovirus much better than mice deficient for IFN-I responses. Deficient TLR responses could be compensated by direct recognition of infected cells by natural killer cells. Hence, we identified experimental conditions in mice mimicking the lack of requirement of TLR functions for antiviral defense observed in humans. We used these experimental models to advance our basic understanding of antiviral immunity in a way that might help improve treatments for patients.