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Cancer. 2008 Feb 15;112(4):863-75. doi: 10.1002/cncr.23239.

Natural killer cells infiltrating human nonsmall-cell lung cancer are enriched in CD56 bright CD16(-) cells and display an impaired capability to kill tumor cells.

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Department of Experimental Medicine, University of Genoa, Italy.



Despite natural killer (NK) cells being originally identified and named because of their ability to kill tumor cells in vitro, only limited information is available on NK cells infiltrating malignant tumors, especially in humans.


NK cells infiltrating human nonsmall cell lung cancers (NSCLC) were analyzed with the aim of identifying their potential protective role in an antitumor immune response. Both relevant molecule expression and functions of NK cells infiltrating NSCLC were analyzed in comparison with autologous NK cells isolated from either peritumoral normal lung tissues or peripheral blood.


The CD56 bright CD16(-) NK cell subset was consistently observed as being highly enriched in tumor infiltrate and displayed activation markers, including NKp44, CD69, and HLA-DR. Remarkably, the cytolytic potential of NK cells isolated from cancer tissues was lower than that of NK cells from peripheral blood or normal lung tissue, whereas no difference was observed regarding their capability of producing cytokines. With regard to their localization within tumor, NK cells were found in tumor stroma, whereas they were not in direct contact with cancer cells.


For the first time NK cells infiltrating NSCLC have been characterized and it is shown that they are mainly capable of producing relevant cytokines rather than exerting direct cancer cell killing.

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