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Scand J Immunol. 2006 Oct;64(4):444-9.

Resistance against natural killer cell cytotoxicity: analysis of mechanisms.

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Department of Haematology and Oncology, Georg-August University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany.


Target cell resistance against natural killer (NK) cell-mediated cytotoxicity obstructs NK cell-based immunotherapy of leukaemia. Several mechanisms of resistance have been described. Because of lack of simple assays for analysing these mechanisms, their relative impact on a given effector-target pair is mostly unknown. We here analysed the combination of the Granzyme B (GrB) enzyme-linked immunospot assay (ELISPOT) for the assessment of NK cell reactivity and cytotoxicity assays to estimate target cell escape mechanisms. Target cell recognition failure leads to negative GrB ELISPOT results, whereas target cell resistance shows positive GrB ELISPOT results in the absence of cytotoxicity. We confronted NK cells with the sensitive target cell line K562, and with the resistant cell lines ML2, SupB15 and Raji. ML2 cells sufficiently activated GrB-release whilst being resistant against cytotoxic granules of NK cells. Partial resistance of Raji results from the interaction of HLA class I with inhibitory killer immunglobulin-like receptors (KIR) on the NK cells. Failure of target recognition by HLA class I-KIR interaction, lacking ligands to stimulatory NK cell receptors and partial resistance to cytotoxic granules all contributed to resistance of SupB15. In conclusion, revealing the mechanisms of resistance against NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity may allow improving the results of NK-based immunotherapy.

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