The capability of anti-tumor antibodies to recruit Fc-receptor (FcR) bearing effector cells like NK cells, a feature considered critical for therapeutic success, can be markedly improved by modifications of the human IgG1 part. At present, Fc-engineered antibodies targeting leukemia cells are yet not available. The various ligands of the NK cell-activating immunoreceptor NKG2D (NKG2DL) are generally absent on healthy cells but upregulated on malignant cells of various origins including leukemia. We aimed to take advantage of the tumor-restricted expression of NKG2DL by using them as target-antigens for Fc-optimized NKG2D-IgG1 fusion proteins targeting leukemia cells for antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and IFN-g production of NK cells. NKG2D-IgG1 fusion proteins with distinct modifications in their Fc portion were generated as previously described (Lazar 2006; Armour 1999). Compared to wildtype NKG2D-Fc (NKG2D-Fc-WT), the mutants (S239D/I332E and E233P/L234V/L235A/DG236/A327G/A330S) displayed highly enhanced (NKG2D-Fc-ADCC) and abrogated (NKG2D-Fc-KO) affinity to the NK cell FcgRIIIa receptor but comparable binding to NKG2DL-expressing target cells. Functional analyses with allogenic NK cells and leukemia cell lines as well as primary leukemic cells of AML and CLL patients revealed that NKG2D-Fc-KO significantly (p<0.05, Mann-Whitney U test) reduced NK cytotoxicity and IFN-g production (about 20% and 30% reduction, respectively), which can be attributed to blockade of NKG2DL-mediated activating signals. Treatment with NKG2D-Fc-WT significantly (p<0.05, Mann-Whitney U test) enhanced NK reactivity (about 20% and 100% increase in cytotoxicity and cytokine production, respectively). The effects observed upon treatment with NKG2D-Fc-ADCC by far exceeded that of NKG2D-Fc-WT resulting in at least doubled NK ADCC and IFN-g production compared to NKG2D-Fc-WT. When applied in combination with Rituximab in analyses with CLL cells, a clear additive effect resulting in a more than four-fold increase of ADCC and FcgRIIIa-induced IFN-g production was observed. The NKG2D-Fc fusion proteins did not induce NK reactivity against healthy blood cells, which is in line with the tumor-restricted expression of NKG2DL. Of note, treatment with NKG2D-Fc-ADCC also significantly (p<0.05, Mann-Whitney U test) enhanced reactivity (up to 70% increase) of NK cells against NKG2DL-positive AML and CLL cells among patient PBMC in an autologous setting. Together, our results demonstrate that Fc-engineered NKG2D-Fc-ADCC fusion proteins can effectively target NKG2DL-expressing leukemia cells for NK anti-tumor reactivity. In line with the hierarchically organized potential of the various activating receptors governing NK reactivity and due to their highly increased affinity to the FcgRIIIa receptor, NKG2D-Fc-ADCC potently enhances NK anti-leukemia reactivity despite the inevitable reduction of activating signals upon binding to NKG2DL. Due to the tumor-restricted expression of NKG2DL, Fc-modified NKG2D-Ig may thus constitute an attractive means for immunotherapy of leukemia.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.