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Oncologist. 2012;17(10):1256-70. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2011-0122. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

NK cells: key to success of DC-based cancer vaccines?

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Vaccine & Infectious Disease Institute (Vaxinfectio), Laboratory of Experimental Hematology, TIGR, University of Antwerp (UA), Antwerp University Hospital (UZA), Wilrijkstraat 10, B-2650 Antwerp, Belgium.


The cytotoxic and regulatory antitumor functions of natural killer (NK) cells have become attractive targets for immunotherapy. Manipulation of specific NK cell functions and their reciprocal interactions with dendritic cells (DCs) might hold therapeutic promise. In this review, we focus on the engagement of NK cells in DC-based cancer vaccination strategies, providing a comprehensive overview of current in vivo experimental and clinical DC vaccination studies encompassing the monitoring of NK cells. From these studies, it is clear that NK cells play a key regulatory role in the generation of DC-induced antitumor immunity, favoring the concept that targeting both innate and adaptive immune mechanisms may synergistically promote clinical outcome. However, to date, DC vaccination trials are only infrequently accompanied by NK cell monitoring. Here, we discuss different strategies to improve DC vaccine preparations via exploitation of NK cells and provide a summary of relevant NK cell parameters for immune monitoring. We underscore that the design of DC-based cancer vaccines should include the evaluation of their NK cell stimulating potency both in the preclinical phase and in clinical trials.

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