Killer IgG like receptor (KIR) inactivation of NK cells by self HLA molecules has been proposed as a mechanism through which malignant cells evade host NK cell-mediated immunity. To overcome this limitation, we sought to develop a method to sensitize the patient’s tumor to autologous NK cell cytotoxicity. The proteasome inhibitor bortezomib has recently been shown to enhance the activity of tumor death receptors. We found that exposure of a variety of different leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumor cancer cell lines to sub-apoptotic doses of bortezomib sensitized tumor cells in vitro to lysis by allogeneic NK cells. Importantly, this sensitizing effect also occurs with autologous NK cells normally rendered inactive via tumor KIR ligands; NK cells expanded from patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma were significantly more cytotoxic against the patient’s own autologous tumor cells when pretreated with bortezomib compared to untreated tumors. This sensitization to autologous NK cell killing was also observed in vivo in two different murine tumor models. A significant delay in tumor growth in C57BL/6 mice bearing LLC1 tumors (figure) and a delay in tumor growth and a significant prolongation (p<0.01) in survival were observed in RENCA tumor bearing Balb/c mice treated with bortezomib and syngeneic NK cell infusions compared to untreated mice or animals treated with bortezomib alone or NK cells alone. An investigation into the mechanism through which NK cell cytotoxicity was potentiated revealed bortezomib enhanced the activity of tumor death receptor-dependent and -independent apoptotic pathways. More specifically, bortezomib sensitized human and murine tumor cells to TRAIL and perforin/granzyme mediated NK cell cytotoxicity respectively. These observations suggest that pretreatment of malignant cells with bortezomib could be used as a strategy to override NK cell inhibition via tumor KIR ligands, thus potentiating the activity of adoptively infused autologous NK cells. A clinical trial evaluating the safety and anti-tumor efficacy of adoptively infused autologous NK cells in patients with advanced malignancies with and without tumor sensitization using bortezomib is currently being explored.
Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.