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Hum Immunol. 2008 Aug;69(8):490-500. doi: 10.1016/j.humimm.2008.06.004. Epub 2008 Jul 9.

Interleukin-12 improves cytotoxicity of natural killer cells via upregulated expression of NKG2D.

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Institute of Immunopharmacology & Immunotherapy, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Shandong University, 44 Wenhua West Road, Jinan 250012, China.


Natural killer (NK) cells are crucial components of the innate immune system, providing the first line of defense against infectious pathogens and tumors. Interleukin (IL)-12 is an interleukin produced primarily by antigen-presenting cells that play an essential role in the interaction between the innate and adaptive arms of immunity acting upon T and NK cells to generate cytotoxic lymphocytes. In the present study, we explored the effect of IL-12 upregulation on the NK receptor NKG2D and on the promotion of NK cell function. IL-12 enhanced the cytotoxicity of NK cells to different solid and hematological tumor cell lines and promoted interferon-gamma secretion by NK cells. The IL-12-induced cytolytic effect was dependent on the interaction of NKG2D with its ligand, MICA, because blockade of either protein attenuated the effect of IL-12 on NK cytolysis. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and fluorescence-activated cell sorting analyses indicated that IL-12 treatment increased NKG2D transcripts and surface expression in NK cells. Also, IL-12 augmented the expression of cytotoxic effector molecules, TRAIL and perforin, and the phosphorylation of STAT1, STAT4, and ERK1/2, which may also contribute to lysis by NK cells. These results are encouraging for the potential use of IL-12 as part of immunotherapy.

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