Optimal selection of natural killer cells to kill myeloma: the role of HLA-E and NKG2A

Subhashis Sarkar, Michel van Gelder, Willy Noort, Yunping Xu, Kasper M. A. Rouschop, Richard Groen, Harry C. Schouten, Marcel G. J. Tilanus, Wilfred T. V. Germeraad, Anton C. M. Martens, Gerard M. J. Bos, Lotte Wieten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Immunotherapy with allogeneic natural killer (NK) cells offers therapeutic perspectives for multiple myeloma patients. Here, we aimed to refine NK cell therapy by evaluation of the relevance of HLA-class I and HLA-E for NK anti-myeloma reactivity. We show that HLA-class I was strongly expressed on the surface of patient-derived myeloma cells and on myeloma cell lines. HLA-E was highly expressed by primary myeloma cells but only marginally by cell lines. HLA-E-low expression on U266 cells observed in vitro was strongly upregulated after in vivo (bone marrow) growth in RAG-2(-/-) gamma c(-/-) mice, suggesting that in vitro HLA-E levels poorly predict the in vivo situation. Concurrent analysis of inhibitory receptors (KIR2DL1, KIR2DL2/3, KIR3DL1 and NKG2A) and NK cell degranulation upon co-culture with myeloma cells revealed that KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells degranulate more than matched subsets and that HLA-E abrogates degranulation of NKG2A+ subsets. Inhibition by HLA-class I and HLA-E was also observed with IL-2-activated NK cells and at low oxygen levels (0.6 %) mimicking hypoxic bone marrow niches where myeloma cells preferentially reside. Our study demonstrates that NKG2A-negative, KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells are the most potent subset for clinical application. We envision that infusion of high numbers of this subclass will enhance clinical efficacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-963
JournalCancer Immunology Immunotherapy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


  • NK cell
  • Multiple myeloma
  • HLA
  • Immunotherapy
  • KIR
  • NKG2A


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