Objective: Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes well suited for adoptive immunotherapy. Attempts with adoptive NK cell immunotherapy against ovarian cancer have proven unsuccessful, with the main limitations including failure to expand and diminished effector function. We investigated if incubation of NK cells with interleukin (IL)-12, IL-15, and IL-18 for 16 h could produce cytokine-induced memory-like (CIML) NK cells capable of enhanced function against ovarian cancer. Methods: NK cells were preactivated briefly with IL-12, IL-15, and IL-18, rested, then placed against ovarian cancer targets to assess phenotype and function via flow cytometry. Real-time NK-cell-mediated tumor-killing was evaluated. Using ascites cells and cell-free ascites fluid, NK cell proliferation and function within the immunosuppressive microenvironment was evaluated in vitro. Finally, CIML NK cells were injected intraperitoneal (IP) into an in vivo xenogeneic mouse model of ovarian cancer. Results: CIML NK cells demonstrate enhanced cytokine (IFN-γ) production and NK-cell-mediated killing of ovarian cancer. NK cells treated overnight with cytokines led to robust activation characterized by temporal shedding of CD16, induction of CD25, and enhanced proliferation. CIML NK cells proliferate more with enhanced effector function compared to controls in an immunosuppressive microenvironment. Finally, human CIML NK cells exhibited potent antitumor effects within a xenogeneic mouse model of ovarian cancer. Conclusions: CIML NK cells have enhanced functionality and persistence against ovarian cancer in vitro and in vivo, even when exposed to ascites fluid. These findings provide a strategy for NK cell-based immunotherapy to circumvent the immunosuppressive nature of ovarian cancer.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Research was supported by funding from the: National Cancer Institute ( R35 CA197292 ) (Felices, M), Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA) (Geller, M; Skubitz, A), Mayo Clinic Ovarian Cancer SPORE ( P50 CA136393 ) (Geller, M), American Cancer Society Research Scholar Grant ( RSG-14-151-01-CCE )(Geller, M), and the Mary Belle Soener Fund (Uppendahl, L).