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J Immunother. 2011 Apr;34(3):270-8. doi: 10.1097/CJI.0b013e31820b370b.

Helper activity of natural killer cells during the dendritic cell-mediated induction of melanoma-specific cytotoxic T cells.

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Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-1863, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cells have been shown to mediate important immunoregulatory "helper" functions in addition to their cytolytic activity. In particular, NK cells are capable of preventing maturation-related dendritic cell (DC) "exhaustion," inducing the development of "type-1 polarized" mature DCs (DC1) with an enhanced ability to produce interleukin (IL)-12p70, a factor essential for type-1 immunity and effective anticancer responses. Here we show that the NK cell-mediated type-1 polarization of DCs can be applied in the context of patients with advanced cancer to enhance the efficacy of DCs in inducing tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes. NK cells isolated from patients with late-stage (stage III and IV) melanoma responded with high interferon-γ production and the induction of type-1-polarized DCs on exposure to defined combinations of stimulatory agents, including interferon-α and IL-18. The resulting DCs showed strongly-enhanced IL-12p70 production on subsequent T-cell interaction compared with immature DCs (average of 19-fold enhancement) and nonpolarized IL-1β/TNF-α/IL-6/PGE(2)-matured "standard" DCs (average of 215-fold enhancement). Additional inclusion of polyinosinic: polycytidylic acid during NK-DC cocultures optimized the expression of CD80, CD86, CD40, and HLA-DR on the resulting (NK)DC1, increased their CCR7-mediated migratory responsiveness to the lymph node-associated chemokine CCL21, and further enhanced their IL-12-producing capacity. When compared in vitro with immature DCs and nonpolarized standard DCs, (NK)DC1 were superior in inducing functional melanoma-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes capable of recognizing multiple melanoma-associated antigens and killing melanoma cells. These results indicate that the helper function of NK cells can be used in clinical settings to improve the effectiveness of DC-based cancer vaccines.

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