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Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2008 Mar;14(3):290-300. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2007.12.490.

Up-regulation of NK cell activating receptors following allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation under a lymphodepleting reduced intensity regimen is associated with elevated IL-15 levels.

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Experimental Transplantation and Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Because natural killer (NK) cells can be potent anti-tumor effectors after allogeneic stem cell transplantation, we investigated NK reconstitution and receptor expression in patients undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, focusing on the activating receptors that trigger anti-tumor responses. We determined that NK levels in the peri-transplant period were inversely proportional to the dramatic rise and fall in plasma levels of the NK homeostatic cytokine IL-15, which increased more than 50-fold from pretreatment to the day of transplant during the lymphoreductive preparative regimen. Furthermore, in NK cells cultured with IL-15, we observed an up-regulation of the activating receptors NKG2D, NKp30, and NKp46, associated with an increase in anti-tumor lytic activity. Similarly, the expression of these activating receptors increased significantly during the early post-transplant period, concurrent with a rapid increase in total NK cells and a shift toward increased expression of CD56. These data suggest that the cytokine milieu of transplants, in particular elevated levels of IL-15, may contribute to anti-tumor efficacy post-transplant by enhancing the recovery of NK subsets and modulating expression of activating receptors.

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