Decreased CD161 activating and increased CD158a inhibitory receptor expression on NK cells underlies impaired NK cell cytotoxicity in patients with multiple myeloma

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As innate immune cells natural killer (NK), NK-like T and CTLγδ are important in antitumour response in multiple myeloma (MM), the aim of this study was to investigate some functional and phenotypical characteristics of these cells in MM.


29 patients with MM prior to therapy, in clinical stage I-III and 15 healthy controls (HCs) were investigated. Percent of immune cells in peripheral blood, NK cell activity, expression of activating (CD161) and inhibitory (CD158a, CD158b) NK cell receptors on CD3−CD16+ NK cells were evaluated using 51-chromium-release assay and by flow cytometry. Production of interleukin (IL) 2 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)α was analysed in supernatants from in vitro activated peripheral blood mononuclear cells.


In patients with MM the percent of NK cells and their two subsets did not differ from controls, while NK-like T and CTLγδ cells were significantly decreased. Significant impairment of NK cell cytotoxicity, CD107a expression and interferon γ intracellular level was also shown. There was a significant decrease in CD161 and an increase in CD158a receptor expression on NK cells in these patients. Also IL-2 production was lowest in clinical stage III. However, TNF-α production did not differ between patients and HCs.


Altered expression of CD161 activating and CD158a KIR inhibitory receptor is responsible for impaired antitumour activity of NK cells in MM patients. These new biomarkers may be helpful for patient selection for immunotherapy with cytokines, and novel KIR blocking monoclonal antibodies that enhance NK cell antimyeloma activity and provide clinical benefit.

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