ABSTRACT: Immune evasion is now recognized as a key feature of cancer progression. In animal models, the activity of cytotoxic lymphocytes is suppressed in the tumour microenvironment by the immunosuppressive cytokine, Transforming Growth Factor (TGF)-β. Release from TGF-β-mediated inhibition restores anti-tumour immunity, suggesting a therapeutic strategy for human cancer. We demonstrate that human natural killer (NK) cells are inhibited in a TGF-β dependent manner following chronic contact-dependent interactions with tumour cells in vitro. In vivo, NK cell inhibition was localised to the human tumour microenvironment and primary ovarian tumours conferred TGF-β dependent inhibition upon autologous NK cells ex vivo. TGF-β antagonized the interleukin (IL)-15 induced proliferation and gene expression associated with NK cell activation, inhibiting the expression of both NK cell activation receptor molecules and components of the cytotoxic apparatus. Interleukin-15 also promotes NK cell survival and IL-15 excluded the pro-apoptotic transcription factor FOXO3 from the nucleus. However, this IL-15 mediated pathway was unaffected by TGF-β treatment, allowing NK cell survival. This suggested that NK cells in the tumour microenvironment might have their activity restored by TGF-β blockade and both anti-TGF-β antibodies and a small molecule inhibitor of TGF-β signalling restored the effector function of NK cells inhibited by autologous tumour cells. Thus, TGF-β blunts NK cell activation within the human tumour microenvironment but this evasion mechanism can be therapeutically targeted, boosting anti-tumour immunity.
PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(9):e22842. · 4.09 Impact Factor