Low expression of CD161 and NKG2D activating NK receptor is associated with impaired NK cell cytotoxicity in metastatic melanoma patients

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Natural killer (NK) cells play a role in the innate and adaptive antitumor immune responses. The activity of NK cells is regulated by functionally opposing, activating and inhibitory receptors whose balance ultimately determines whether target cells will be susceptible to NK cell mediated lysis. As melanoma is an immunogenic tumor, the effect of immunomodulating agents is consistently investigated. In this study in 79 metastatic melanoma (MM) patients and 52 controls NK activity, expression of activating NKG2D and CD161 receptors and KIR receptors, CD158a and CD158b, on freshly isolated PBL and NK cells were evaluated. Native NK cell activity of melanoma patients in clinical stage I-III and MM patients was determined against NK sensitive K562, NK resistant Daudi, human melanoma FemX, HeLa and HL 60 target tumor cell lines. In addition, predictive pretherapy immunomodulating effect after 18 h in vitro treatments of PBL of MM patients with rh IL-2, IFN-α (IFN), 13-cis retinoic acid (RA) and combination IFN-α and RA was evaluated with respect to NK cell lyses against K562 and FemX cell lines. In this study we show for the first time that low expression of CD161 and activating NKG2D receptors, without increased expression of KIR receptors CD158a and CD158b, as well as a decrease in the cytotoxic, CD16brightNK cell subset, is associated with a significant impairment in NK cell activity in MM patients. Furthermore, the predictive pretherapy finding that IL-2, IFN, IFN and RA, unlike RA alone, can enhance NK cell activity of MM patients against FemX melanoma tumor cell line can be of help in the design and development of therapeutic regimens, considering that it has recently been shown that low-dose combination of different immunomodulators represents the most promising approach in the therapy of MM.

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