ADCC-Inducing Antibody Trastuzumab and Selection of KIR-HLA Ligand Mismatched Donors Enhance the NK Cell Anti-Breast Cancer Response

Femke A. Ehlers, Nicky A. Beelen, Michel van Gelder, Tom M. J. Evers, Marjolein L. Smidt, Loes F. S. Kooreman, Gerard M. J. Bos, Lotte Wieten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Simple Summary Natural killer (NK) cells are potent killers of tumor cells. Many tumors, including breast cancers, develop mechanisms to suppress anti-tumor immune responses, requiring the development of strategies to overcome suppression. Here, we tested a combination therapy that aims to (1) enhance NK cell activation and (2) reduce NK cell inhibition mediated by suppressive factors in tumors or in the tumor microenvironment. We cultured cell lines under hypoxia to mimic the tumor microenvironment or used patient-derived breast cancer cells that were primed by the patient's tumor environment. Our results demonstrated that cytokine-activated NK cells remained active under hypoxia and that tumor-targeting antibodies enhanced the NK cell anti-breast cancer response. Moreover, we observed that NK cell suppression by inhibitory ligands on the tumor cells can be reduced by the selection of NK cell donors with NK receptors that are incompatible with these ligands. Collectively, we present two powerful strategies to enhance the NK cell responses against breast cancer. Natural killer (NK)-cell-based immunotherapies are an attractive treatment option for cancer. We previously showed that alloreactive mouse NK cells cured mice of 4T1 breast cancer. However, the tumor microenvironment can inhibit immune responses, and these suppressive factors must be overcome to unfold the NK cells' full anti-tumor potential. Here, we investigated the combination of antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADDC) and the selection of KIR-HLA-ligand mismatched NK cells to enhance NK cell anti-breast cancer responses in clinically relevant settings. Donor-derived and IL-2-activated NK cells were co-cultured with patient-derived breast cancer cells or cell lines MCF7 or SKBR3 together with the anti-HER2 antibody trastuzumab. NK cells mediated anti-breast cancer cytotoxicity under normoxic and hypoxic conditions. Under both conditions, trastuzumab vigorously enhanced NK cell degranulation (CD107a) against HER2-overexpressing SKBR3 cells, but we observed a discrepancy between highly degranulating NK cells and a rather modest increase in cytotoxicity of SKBR3. Against patient-derived breast cancer cells, the anti-tumor efficacy was rather limited, and HLA class I expression seemed to contribute to inhibited NK cell functionality. KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells degranulated stronger compared to the matched NK cells, further highlighting the role of HLA. In summary, trastuzumab and KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells could be two strategies to potently enhance NK cell responses to breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3232
Number of pages18
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • alloreactive donor NK cells
  • HLA class I
  • antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity
  • breast cancer
  • tumor microenvironment
  • SELF

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