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Blood. 2019 Mar 28;133(13):1479-1488. doi: 10.1182/blood-2018-09-874990. Epub 2019 Jan 15.

The HLA-B -21 dimorphism impacts on NK cell education and clinical outcome of immunotherapy in acute myeloid leukemia.

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TIMM Laboratory at Sahlgrenska Cancer Center and.
Department of Hematology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.


Natural killer (NK) cell function is regulated by inhibitory receptors, such as the family of killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and the NKG2A/CD94 heterodimer. These receptors recognize cognate HLA class I molecules on potential target cells, and recent studies imply that an HLA-B dimorphism at position -21 in the gene segment encoding the leader peptide dictates whether NK cell regulation primarily relies on the KIRs or the NKG2A/CD94 receptor. The impact of this HLA-B dimorphism on NK cell-mediated destruction of leukemic cells or on the course of leukemia is largely unknown. In a first part of this study, we compared functions of NK cells in subjects carrying HLA-B -21M or 21T using interleukin-2 (IL-2)-activated NK cells and leukemic cells from patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Subjects carrying HLA-B -21M harbored better-educated NKG2A+ NK cells and displayed superior capacity to degranulate lytic granules against KIR ligand-matched primary leukemic blasts. Second, we aimed to define the potential impact of HLA-B -21 variation on the course of AML in a phase 4 trial in which patients received IL-2-based immunotherapy. In keeping with the hypothesis that 21M may be associated with improved NK cell functionality, we observed superior leukemia-free survival and overall survival in -21M patients than in -21T patients during IL-2-based immunotherapy. We propose that genetic variation at HLA-B -21 may determine the antileukemic efficacy of activated NK cells and the clinical benefit of NK cell-activating immunotherapy.

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