NK cells are essential for effective BCG immunotherapy

Int J Cancer. 2001 Jun 1;92(5):697-702. doi: 10.1002/1097-0215(20010601)92:5<697::aid-ijc1245>3.0.co;2-z.


Adjuvant intravesical bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) therapy is a well-established and successful adjuvant immunotherapy in the treatment of superficial bladder cancer. Although the function of natural killer (NK) cells in other immunotherapeutic regimens (e.g., lymphokine-activated killer [LAK] cell or interleukin-2 [IL-2] therapy) has been established, the contribution of NK cells to effective BCG immunotherapy is not clear. We used a human in vitro system to analyze the role of NK cells in BCG-induced cellular cytotoxicity. After stimulation of mononuclear cells with BCG for 7 days, these BCG-activated killer (BAK) cells displayed substantial cytotoxicity against bladder tumor cells. Magnetic depletion experiments and fluorescence activated cell sorting revealed that NK cells were the major effector cell population. To address NK cell function in vivo, we studied a syngeneic orthotopic murine bladder cancer model and compared BCG immunotherapy in C57BL/6 wild-type mice, NK-deficient beige mice and mice treated with anti-NK1.1 monoclonal antibody. Four weekly instillations of viable BCG significantly prolonged survival in wild-type mice compared with control mice treated with solvent alone. In contrast, BCG therapy was completely ineffective in NK-deficient beige mice and in mice treated with anti-NK1.1 monoclonal antibody. These findings suggest a key role for NK cells during BCG immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • BCG Vaccine / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / immunology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / therapy*


  • BCG Vaccine