Aim: To characterize the anticancer function of cytokine-induced killer cells (CIK) and develop an adoptive immunotherapy for the patients with primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), we evaluated the proliferation rate, phenotype and the antitumor activity of human CIK cells from healthy donors and HCC patients in vitro and in vivo.
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy donors and patients with primary HCC were incubated in vitro and induced into CIK cells in the presence of various cytokines such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-2 and monoclonal antibody (mAb) against CD3. The phenotype and characterization of CIK cells were identified by flow cytometric analysis. The cytotoxicity of CIK cells was determined by (51)Cr release assay.
Results: The CIK cells were shown to be a heterogeneous population with different cellular phenotypes. The percentage of CD3+/CD56+ positive cells, the dominant effector cells, in total CIK cells from healthy donors and HCC patients, significantly increased from 0.1-0.13% at day 0 to 19.0-20.5% at day 21 incubation, which suggested that the CD3+ CD56+ positive cells proliferated faster than other cell populations of CIK cells in the protocol used in this study. After 28 day in vitro incubation, the CIK cells from patients with HCC and healthy donors increased by more than 300-fold and 500-fold in proliferation cell number, respectively. CIK cells originated from HCC patients possessed a higher in vitro antitumor cytotoxic activity on autologous HCC cells than the autologous lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells and PBMC cells. In in vivo animal experiment, CIK cells had stronger effects on the inhibition of tumor growth in Balb/c nude mice bearing BEL-7402-producing tumor than LAK cells (mean inhibitory rate, 84.7% vs 52.8%, P<0.05) or PBMC (mean inhibitory rate, 84.7% vs 37.1%, P<0.01).
Conclusion: Autologous CIK cells are of highly efficient cytotoxic effector cells against primary hepatocellular carcinoma cells and might serve as an alternative adoptive therapeutic strategy for HCC patients.