Maturation of human natural killer (NK) cells as defined by accumulation of cell-surface expression of CD57 is associated with increased cytotoxic character and TNF and IFNg production upon target-cell recognition. Notably, multiple studies point to a unique role for CD57+ NK cells in cancer immunosurveillance, yet there is scant information about how they mature. In this study, we show that pharmacologic inhibition of GSK3 kinase in peripheral blood NK cells expanded ex vivo with IL15 greatly enhances CD57 upregulation and late-stage maturation. GSK3 inhibition elevated the expression of several transcription factors associated with late-stage NK-cell maturation including T-BET, ZEB2, and BLIMP-1 without affecting viability or proliferation. When exposed to human cancer cells, NK cell expanded ex vivo in the presence of a GSK3 inhibitor exhibited significantly higher production of TNF and IFNg, elevated natural cytotoxicity, and increased antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. In an established mouse xenograft model of ovarian cancer, adoptive transfer of NK cells conditioned in the same way also displayed more robust and durable tumor control. Our findings show how GSK3 kinase inhibition can greatly enhance the mature character of NK cells most desired for effective cancer immunotherapy.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the following NIH grants: P01 CA111412 (F. Cichocki, S. Cooley, and J.S. Miller), P01 CA65493 (S. Cooley, B.R. Blazar, and J.S. Miller), R35 CA197292 (S. Cooley and J.S. Miller), R01