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PLoS One. 2009;4(5):e5597. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005597. Epub 2009 May 19.

Natural killer lysis receptor (NKLR)/NKLR-ligand matching as a novel approach for enhancing anti-tumor activity of allogeneic NK cells.

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Ella Institute of Melanoma, Cancer Research Center, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel.



NK cells are key players in anti tumor immune response, which can be employed in cell-based therapeutic modalities. One of the suggested ways to amplify their anti tumor effect, especially in the field of stem cell transplantation, is by selecting donor/recipient mismatches in specific HLA, to reduce the inhibitory effect of killer Ig-like receptors (KIRs). Here we suggest an alternative approach for augmentation of anti tumor effect of allogeneic NK cells, which is founded on profile matching of donor NK lysis receptors (NKLR) phenotype with tumor lysis-ligands.


We show that an NKLR-mediated killing directly correlates with the NKLR expression intensity on NK cells. Considerable donor variability in the expression of CD16, NKp46, NKG2D and NKp30 on circulating NK cells, combined with the stability of phenotype in several independently performed tests over two months, indicates that NKLR-guided selection of donors is feasible. As a proof of concept, we show that melanoma cells are dominantly recognized by three NKLRs: NKG2D, NKp30 and NKp44. Notably, the expression of NKp30 on circulating NK cells among metastatic melanoma patients was significantly decreased, which diminishes their ability to kill melanoma cells. Ex vivo expansion of NK cells results not only in increased amount of cells but also in a consistently superior and predictable expression of NKG2D, NKp30 and NKp44. Moreover, expanded NK cultures with high expression of NKG2D or NKp30 were mostly derived from the corresponding NKG2D(high) or NK30(high) donors. These NK cultures subsequently displayed an improved cytotoxic activity against melanoma in a HLA/KIR-ligand mismatched setup, which was NKLR-dependent, as demonstrated with blocking anti-NKG2D antibodies.


NKLR/NKLR-ligand matching reproducibly elicits enhanced NK anti-tumor response. Common NKLR recognition patterns of tumors, as demonstrated here in melanoma, would allow implementation of this approach in solid malignancies and potentially in hematological malignancies, either independently or in adjunction to other modalities.

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