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J Immunol. 2006 Jul 1;177(1):120-9.

Interleukin-21 enhances NK cell activation in response to antibody-coated targets.

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Integrated Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, Department of Molecular Virology, Arthur G. James Comprehensive Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


NK cells express an activating FcR (FcgammaRIIIa) that mediates Ab-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and the production of immune modulatory cytokines in response to Ab-coated targets. IL-21 has antitumor activity in murine models that depends in part on its ability to promote NK cell cytotoxicity and IFN-gamma secretion. We hypothesized that the NK cell response to FcR stimulation would be enhanced by the administration of IL-21. Human NK cells cultured with IL-21 and immobilized IgG or human breast cancer cells coated with a therapeutic mAb (trastuzumab) secreted large amounts of IFN-gamma. Increased secretion of TNF-alpha and the chemokines IL-8, MIP-1alpha, and RANTES was also observed under these conditions. NK cell IFN-gamma production was dependent on distinct signals mediated by the IL-21R and the FcR and was abrogated in STAT1-deficient NK cells. Supernatants derived from NK cells that had been stimulated with IL-21 and mAb-coated breast cancer cells were able to drive the migration of naive and activated T cells in an in vitro chemotaxis assay. IL-21 also enhanced NK cell lytic activity against Ab-coated tumor cells. Coadministration of IL-21 and Ab-coated tumor cells to immunocompetent mice led to synergistic production of IFN-gamma by NK cells. Furthermore, the administration of IL-21 augmented the effects of an anti-HER2/neu mAb in a murine tumor model, an effect that required IFN-gamma. These findings demonstrate that IL-21 significantly enhances the NK cell response to Ab-coated targets and suggest that IL-21 would be an effective adjuvant to administer in combination with therapeutic mAbs.

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