Natural killer (NK) cells are known to play a pivotal role in regulating immune defense against tumors and viruses. However, very few studies describe the effects of natural products or their derivatives on NK cell function. We previously showed that the natural product lignan phyllanthusmin C enhances human NK cell IFN-gamma production. In this study, we successfully synthesized dozens of phyllanthusmin derivatives and screened their activities to enhance IFN-gamma production by NK cells. We found that three of these derivatives possessed capacities to induce IFN-gamma production by NK cells. Among them, derivative No. 17 had the highest efficacy and was significantly superior (P < 0.05) to that of the original phyllanthusmin C. These three phyllanthusmin derivatives had no adverse effect on human NK cell survival or proliferation. All derivatives alone or in combination with IL-12 or IL-15 induced human NK cell interferon (IFN)-gamma in comparison with the corresponding vehicle control or cytokine alone (P < 0.05). These derivatives stimulated IFN-gamma production in both CD56bright and CD56dim human NK cell subsets (P < 0.01). Mechanistically, immunoblotting assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analyses combined with promoter-reporter luciferase assays revealed that these phyllanthusmin derivatives induced the phosphorylation of NF-κB and STAT3, resulting in their increased binding on theIFN G promoter, which was dependent on the Toll-like receptor (TLR) 1 and the TLR3 signaling pathways, respectively. STAT3 knockdown with lentivirus shRNA and inhibition of NF-kB signaling with a specific inhibitor (TPCK) significantly attenuated IFN-gamma production induced by these phyllanthusmin derivatives in human NK cells (P < 0.05). Blockade of TLR1 or TLR3 with their corresponding neutralizing antibodies nearly abolished activation of NF-κB or STAT3 as well as IFN-γ induction by the phyllanthusmin derivatives (P < 0.05). In conclusion, we have successfully synthesized and screened phyllanthusmin derivatives and identified three compounds that induce IFN-gamma production in human NK cells, one of which had optimal potential. The induction of human NK cell IFN-gamma production by phyllanthusmin derivatives is mediated by TLR1-NF-κB and TLR3-STAT3 signaling pathways, rendering their potential for use as agents for cancer prevention or treatment.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.