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J Autoimmun. 2009 Nov-Dec;33(3-4):275-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2009.07.010. Epub 2009 Aug 13.

Application of tissue-specific NK and NKT cell activity for tumor immunotherapy.

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  • 1Cancer and Inflammation Program, National Cancer Institute, 1050 Boyles Street, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


Natural killer (NK) and NKT cells are a first line of defense against pathogens and transformed cells. However, dysregulation of their function can lead to autoimmune disease. A better understanding of the mechanisms controlling NK and NKT effector function should lead to the development of improved strategies for the treatment of many diseases. The site in which NK and NKT cells reside should be taken into account, because accumulating evidence suggests that the tissue microenvironment strongly influences their function. In this regard, the liver represents a unique immunologic organ in which the balance between the need for tolerance and the ability to respond rapidly to pathogens and tissue injury is tightly regulated. NK cells in the liver have augmented cytolytic activity as compared to other organs, which is consistent with a role for liver-associated NK cells in being critical effector cells for inhibiting tumor metastasis in the liver. Several studies also suggest that hepatic NKT cells have different functions than those in other organs. Whereas splenic and thymic NKT cells have been shown to suppress diabetes development, facilitate the induction of systemic tolerance and are regulated by IL-4 and other Th2 cytokines, certain subsets of NKT cells in the liver are important sources of Th1 cytokines such as Interferon gamma, and are the primary mediators of anti-tumor responses. The unique properties and roles as critical effector cells make NK and NKT cells within the liver microenvironment attractive targets of immunotherapeutic approaches that have the goal of controlling tumor metastasis in the liver.

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